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Pablo Neruda, the internationally acclaimed Latin American poet, 
was born in 1904 in Parral, Chile. In 1920 he went to Santiago to 
study and published his first book of poems, La cancion de la fiesta 
(1921); and his second collection, Crepusculario (1923), brought him 
instant recognition. In 1924 he published the enormously popular 
Veinte poemas de amory una cancion deseperada. From 1927 to 1945 he 
served as Chilean consul in Rangoon, Java and Barcelona, and was 
writing continuously. Greatly influenced by events in the Spanish 
Civil War, Neruda joined the Communist Party after the second 
World War, and his changed attitudes registered themselves in his 
poetry. From now on he regarded poetry not as an elite pursuit but 
as a' statement of human solidarity addressed to ‘simple people’. 
Canto general (one part of which is The Heights of Macchu Picchu, 
translated by Nathaniel Tarn) is a poem of epic proportions, tracing 
the history of Latin America and evoking the grandeur of its land- 
scapes. It also introduces political polemic. Always a prolific poet, 
Neruda continued to write poetry throughout the fifties and sixties, 
and in 1971 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Poetry. From 1970 
to 1973 he served under Allende as Chilean ambassador to Paris. 

Pablo Neruda died in 1973, shortly after the coup in Chile which 
ousted Allende. 

Books by Pablo Neruda 

Crepusculario / Crepusculario 

Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada / Twenty 
Love Poems and a Song of Despair 

Tentativa del hombre infinito / Venture of the Infinite Man 

El habitante y su esperanza / The Inhabitant and His Hope 

Anillos / Rings 

El bonder o entusiasta / The Ardent Slingsman 

Residencia en la tierra ( / ) / Residence on Earth ( / ) 

Residencia en la tierra (2) l Residence on Earth ( 2 ) 

Tercera residencia / The Third Residence 

La ahogada del cielo / The Woman Drowned in the Sky 
Las furias y las penas / Griefs and Rages 
Reunion bajo las nuevas banderas / United under New Flags 
Espana en el corazon / Spain in My Heart 
Canto a Stalingrado / Song to Stalingrad 

Canto general / Canto general 

La l&mpara en la tierra / A Lamp on This Earth 
Alturas de Macchu Picchu / The Heights of Macchu Picchu 
Los conquistadores / The Conquistadors 
Los libertadores / The Liberators 
La arena traicionada / The Sands Betrayed 
America, no invoco tu nombre en vano / America, I Don’t 
Invoke Your Name in Vain 
Canto general de Chile / Song of Chile 
La tierra se llama Juan / The Land Is Called Juan 
Que despierte el lenador / Let the Rail Splitter Awaken 
El fugitivo / The Fugitive 
Las flores de Punitaqui / The Flowers of Punitaqui 
Los rios del canto / Rivers of Song 

Coral de ano nuevo para la patria en tinieblas / A New Year’s 
Hymn for My Country in Darkness 
El gran oceano / The Great Ocean 
Yo soy / I Am 

Las uvas y el viento / The Grapes and the Wind 
Los versos del capitan / The Captain’s Verses 
Odas elementales / Elemental Odes 
Nuevas odas elementales / More Elemental Odes 
T ercer libro de las odas / The Third Book of Odes 
Viajes / Journeys 
Estravagario / Extravagaria 
Navegaciones y regresos / Voyages and Homecomings 
Cien sonetos de amor / One Hundred Love Sonnets 
Canciin de gesta / Chanson de geste 
Las piedras de Chile / The Stones of Chile 
Cantos ceremoniales / Ceremonial Songs 
Plenos poderes / Fully Empowered 
Memorial de Isla Negra / Notes from Isla Negra 
Arte de pajaros / The Art of Birds 
Una casa en la arena / A House by the Shore 
La barcarola / Barcarole 

Fulgor y muerte de Joaquin Murieta / Splendor and Death of 
Joaquin Murieta 

Comiendo en Hungrta / Eating in Hungary 

Las manos del dta / The Hands of Day 

Atm / And Yet 

Findemundo / World's End 

La espada encendida / The Flaming Sword 

Las piedras del cielo / Sky Stones 

Geografia infructuosa / Barren Terrain 

Incitacidn al Nixonicidio y alabanza de la revolucion chilena / A Call for 
Nixonicide and Glory to the Chilean Revolution 

El mar y las campanas / The Sea and the Bells 

La rosa separada / The Separate Rose 

2000 / 2000 

Jar din de mvierno / Winter Garden 
El corazdn amarillo / The Yellow Heart 
Libro de las preguntas / The Book of Riddles 
Elegta / Elegy 

Defectos escogidos / Selected Failings 
Confieso que he vhndo: Memorias / Memoirs 


Tablo Neruda 


Hardie St. Martin 




Published by the Penguin Group 

Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England 
Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA 
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia 
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2 
Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd, Private Bag 102902, NSMC, Auckland, New Zealand 

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex. England 

Translated from the Spanish, Confieso que he vivido: Memorias, 
and first published in the United States of America 
by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc. 1977 
First published in Great Britain by 
Souvenir Press (Educational & Academic) Ltd 1977 
Published in Penguin Books 1978 
17 19 20 18 

Confieso que he vivido: Memorias 
Copyright © The Estate of Pablo Neruda, 1974 
Translation copyright © Farrar. Straus and Giroux, Inc.. 1976, 1977 
All rights reserved 

Printed in England by Clays Ltd, St Ives pic 
Set in Linotype Janson 

The final editing of Pablo Neruda’s memoirs 
was interrupted by his death 
Matilde Neruda and Miguel Otero Silva 
prepared the manuscript for publication. 

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject 
to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, 
re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s 
prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in 
which it is published and without a similar condition including this 
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser 















Chronology 353 

Index 365 



I n these memoirs or recollections there are gaps here and there, 
and sometimes they are also forgetful, because life is like that. 
Intervals of dreaming help us to stand up under days of work. 
Many of the things I remember have blurred as I recalled them, 
they have crumbled to dust, like irreparably shattered glass. 

What the memoir writer remembers is not the same thing the 
poet remembers. He may have lived less, but he photographed 
much more, and he re-creates for us with special attention to de- 
tail. The poet gives us a gallery full of ghosts shaken by the fire 
and darkness of his time. 

Perhaps I didn’t live just in my self, perhaps I lived the lives of 

From what I have left in writing on these pages there will al- 
ways fall— as in the autumn grove or during the harvesting of the 
vineyards— yellow leaves on their way to death, and grapes that 
will find new life in the sacred wine. 

My life is a life put together from all those lives: the lives of the 


The Country Boy 


U nder the volcanoes, beside the snow-capped mountains, 
among the huge lakes, the fragrant, the silent, the tangled 
Chilean forest . . . My feet sink down into the dead leaves, a 
fragile twig crackles, the giant rauli trees rise in all their bristling 
height, a bird from the cold jungle passes over, flaps its wings, and 
stops in the sunless branches. And then, from its hideaway, it sings 
like an oboe ... The wild scent of the laurel, the dark scent of 
the boldo herb, enter my nostrils and flood my whole being . . . 
The cypress of the Guaitecas blocks my way ... This is a verti- 
cal world: a nation of birds, a plenitude of leaves . . . 1 stumble 
over a rock, dig up the uncovered hollow, an enormous spider 
covered with red hair stares up at me, motionless, as huge as a 
crab ... A golden carabus beetle blows its mephitic breath at 
me, as its brilliant rainbow disappears like lightning . . . Going 
on, I pass through a forest of ferns much taller than 1 am: from 
their cold green eyes sixty tears splash down on my face and, 
behind me, their fans go on quivering for a long time ... A de- 
caying tree trunk: what a treasure! . . . Black and blue mush- 
rooms have given it ears, red parasite plants have covered it with 
rubies, other lazy plants have let it borrow their beards, and a 
snake springs out of the rotted body like a sudden breath, as if 
the spirit of the dead trunk were slipping away from it .. . Far- 
ther along, each tree stands away from its fellows . . . They soar 




up over the carpet of the secretive forest, and the foliage of each 
has its own style, linear, bristling, ramulose, lanceolate, as if cut by 
shears moving in infinite ways ... A gorge; below, the crystal 
water slides over granite and jasper ... A butterfly goes past, 
bright as a lemon, dancing between the water and the sunlight 
. . . Close by, innumerable calceolarias nod their little yellow 
heads in greeting . . . High up, red copihues (Lapageria rosea) 
dangle like drops from the magic forest’s arteries ... The red 
copihue is the blood flower, the white copihue is the snow flower 
... A fox cuts through the silence like a flash, sending a 
shiver through the leaves, but silence is the law of the plant king- 
dom ... The barely audible cry of some bewildered animal far 
off . . . The piercing interruption of a hidden bird . . . The 
vegetable world keeps up its low rustle until a storm chums up all 
the music of the earth. 

Anyone who hasn’t been in the Chilean forest doesn't know 
this planet. 

I have come out of that landscape, that mud, that silence, to 
roam, to go singing through the world. 


I’ll start out by saying this about the days and the years of my 
childhood: the rain was the one unforgettable presence for me 
then. The great southern rain, coming down like a waterfall from 
the Pole, from the skies of Cape Horn to the frontier. On this 
frontier, my country’s Wild West, I first opened my eyes to life, 
the land, poetry, and the rain. 

I have traveled a lot, and it seems to me that the art of raining, 
practiced with a terrible but subtle power in my native Arau- 
cania, has now been lost. Sometimes it rained for a whole month, 
for a whole year. Threads of rain fell, like long needles of glass 
snapping off on the roofs or coming up against the windows in 
transparent waves, and each house was a ship struggling to make 
port in the ocean of winter. 

This cold rain from the south of the Americas is not the sudden 
squall of hot rain that comes down like a whip and goes on, 
leaving a blue sky in its wake. The southern rain is patient and 
keeps falling endlessly from the gray sky. 


The Country Boy 

The street in front of my house has turned into a huge sea of 
mud. Out the window, through the rain, I watch a cart stuck in 
the middle of the street. A peasant wearing a heavy black woolen 
cloak beats his oxen; the rain and the mud are too much for 

We used to walk to school, along the unpaved sidewalks, step- 
ping from stone to stone, despite the cold and the rain. The wind 
carried off our umbrellas. Raincoats were expensive, I didn’t like 
gloves, my shoes got soaked through. I’ll always remember the 
wet socks hanging next to the brazier, and lots of shoes, steaming 
like toy locomotives. Then the floods would come and wash away 
the settlements along the river, where the poor lived. The earth 
shook and trembled. At other times, a crest of terrifying light 
appeared on the sierras: Mt. Llaima, the volcano, was stirring. 

Temuco is a pioneer town, one of those towns that have no 
past, though it does have hardware stores. Since the Indians can’t 
read, the stores hang their eye-catching signs out on the streets: 
an enormous saw, a giant cooking pot, a Cyclopean padlock, a 
mammoth spoon. Farther along the street, shoe stores— a colossal 

Temuco was the farthest outpost of Chilean life in the southern 
territories, and therefore it had a long bloody history behind it. 

When the Spanish conquistadors pushed them back, after three 
hundred years of fighting, the Araucanian Indians retreated to 
those cold regions. But the Chileans continued what they called 
“the pacification of Araucania,” their war of blood and fire to 
turn our countrymen out of their own lands. Every kind of 
weapon was used against the Indians, unsparingly: carbine blasts, 
the burning of villages, and later, a more fatherly method, alcohol 
and the law. The lawyer became a specialist at stripping them of 
their fields, the judge sentenced them when they protested, the 
priest threatened them with eternal fire. And hard spirits finally 
consummated the annihilation of a superb race whose deeds, 
valor, and beauty Don Alonso de Ercilla carved in stanzas of jade 
and iron in his Araucana. 

My parents had come from Parral, where I was bora. There, in 
central Chile, vineyards thrive and wine is plentiful. My mother, 
Dona Rosa Basoalto, died before I could have a memory of her, 
before I knew it was she my eyes gazed upon. I was bom on July 



12, 1904, and a month later, in August, wasted away by tubercu- 
losis, my mother was gone. 

Life was difficult for small farmers in the central part of the 
country. My grandfather, Don Jose Angel Reyes, had little land 
and many children. To me, my uncles’ names were like the names 
of princes from far-off kingdoms. Amos, Oseas, Joel, Abadias. 
My father’s name was simply Jose del Carmen. He left his father’s 
farm while he was still very young and worked as a laborer at the 
dry docks in the port of Talcahuano, eventually becoming a rail- 
road man in Temuco. 

He was a conductor on a ballast train. Few people know what a 
ballast train is. In the southern region, with its violent gales, the 
rains would wash away the rails if gravel wasn’t poured in 
between the ties. The ballast had to be taken out of the quarries in 
hods and this coarse gravel dumped onto flatcars. Forty years ago, 
the crew on this type of train had to be made of iron. They came 
from the fields, from the suburbs, from jails, and were huge, 
muscular laborers. The company paid miserable wages and no 
references were asked of those looking for work on these trains. 
My father, the conductor, had grown used to giving and taking 
orders. Sometimes he took me along. We quarried rocks in Boroa, 
savage heart of the frontier, scene of the terrible battles between 
the Spaniards and the Araucanians. 

There, nature made me euphoric. Birds, beetles, partridge eggs 
fascinated me. What a miracle it was, finding them in the ravines, 
blue, dark, and shiny, the color of a shotgun barrel. I marveled at 
the perfection of the insects. I collected “snake mothers.” This 
was the grotesque name given to the largest beetle, black, glisten- 
ing, and tough, the titan of insects in Chile. He gives you quite a 
turn when you come upon him suddenly, on the trunk of a 
ginger, wild-apple, or coihue tree, and I knew he was so strong 
that I could stand on him and he wouldn’t even crack. With his 
mighty shield to protect him, he had no need of venomous 

My expeditions filled the workers with curiosity. Before long, 
they started taking an active interest in my discoveries. The mo- 
ment my father’s back was turned, they slipped off into the 
jungle, and with more skill, strength, and intelligence than I. 
they found fantastic treasures for me. There was one fellow 

The Country Boy 


called Monge. According to my father, he was a dangerous man 
with a knife. He had two huge incisions on his swarthy face. One 
was the vertical scar left by a knife, and the other his white, 
horizontal grin, full of charm and deviltry. This fellow, Monge, 
would bring me white copihues, furry spiders, sucking ringdoves, 
and once he found for me the most dazzling of all, the beetle of 
the coihue and the luma trees. I don’t know if you have ever seen 
one. That was the only time I ever did. It was a streak of light- 
ning dressed in the colors of the rainbow. Red and violet and 
green and yellow glittered on its shell. It escaped from my hands 
with the speed of lightning and went back into the forest again. 
Monge wasn’t there to catch it for me. I have never quite re- 
covered from that dazzling apparition. Nor have I forgotten my 
friend. My father told me about his death. He fell from a train 
arid tumbled down a precipice. The convoy was stopped, but by 
then, my father told me, he was just a sack of bones. 

It’s difficult to describe a house like ours, a typical frontier 
house of sixty years ago. 

In the first place, these homes intercommunicated. Through the 
patio of the Reyes, and the Ortegas, of the Candia and the Mason 
families, tools and books, birthday cakes, liniments, umbrellas, 
tables and chairs changed hands. These pioneer homes formed the 
hub of all the activities of the village. 

Don Carlos Mason, a North American with a white mane of 
hair, who looked like Emerson, was the patriarch of this particu- 
lar family. The Mason children were true creoles. Don Carlos 
respected the law and the Bible. He was not an empire builder but 
one of the original settlers. No one had money, and yet printing 
presses, hotels, slaughterhouses burgeoned in this family. Some of 
the sons were newspaper editors and others just worked for them. 
In time, everything crumbled and everyone was left as poor as 
before. Only the Germans kept a stubborn hold on their assets, 
and that singled them out in the hinterlands. 

Our houses, then, had something of a settlers’ temporary camp 
about them. Or of an explorers’ supply base. Anyone who came 
in saw kegs, tools, saddles, and all kinds of indescribable objects. 

There were always rooms that weren’t finished, and half- 
completed stairways. There was, forever, talk of going on with 



the building. Parents were already beginning to think of a univer- 
sity education for their children. 

In Don Carlos Mason’s home, the most important holidays 
were observed. For every birthday dinner there was turkey with 
celery, lamb barbecued on a wooden spit, and floating island for 
dessert. It has been many years since I last tasted this custard. The 
white-haired patriarch sat at the head of the interminable table 
with his wife, Dona Micaela Candia. Behind him, there was a huge 
Chilean flag with a tiny American one pinned onto it. Those 
were also the proportions of their blood. Chile’s lone star pre- 

In the Mason house there was also a living room that we chil- 
dren were not allowed to go into. I never knew what color its 
furniture was, because it was kept under white covers, until a fire 
swept it away. There was an album in there with photographs of 
the family, finer and more delicate than the horrid colored blow- 
ups that invaded the frontier later on. 

There was a picture of my mother. She was a lady dressed in 
black, slender, with a faraway look. I have been told that she 
wrote poems, but I have never seen them, only the lovely portrait. 

My father had married again; his second wife was Dona Trini- 
dad Candia Marverde, my stepmother. I find it hard to believe 
that this is what I must call the guardian angel of my childhood. 
She was devoted and loving, and had a countrywoman’s sense of 
humor and a diligent, inexhaustible kindness. 

As soon as my father came in, she would turn into a quiet 
shadow, as did all the women there in those days. 

I saw mazurkas and quadrilles danced in that living room. 

At home we had a trunk filled with fascinating things. A mar- 
velous parrot preened on a calendar at the bottom of the chest. 
One day, while my mother was going through that sacred ark, I 
reached for the parrot and fell in, head first. As I got older, I used 
to open the trunk on the sly. There were some lovely fragile fans 
in it. 

I recall something else in that trunk. The first love story that 
intrigued me passionately. It consisted of hundreds of postcards 
sent by someone who signed himself Enrique or Alberto, I don’t 
remember which, all addressed to Maria Thielman. These cards 
were marvelous. They were photographs of the great actresses of 


The Country Boy 

the day, embossed with little chips of glass and sometimes with 
leal hair pasted on the heads. There were also castles, cities, and 
foreign landscapes. For years I found pleasure only in the pic- 
tures. But, as I grew older, I read those love notes written in a 
flawless hand. I always imagined the suitor as a man with a derby, 
a cane, and a diamond stickpin. His messages, sent from all 
corners of the globe, were filled with reckless passion expressed 
in dazzling phrases, with love that threw caution to the winds. I, 
too, began to fall in love with Maria Thielman. I imagined her as a 
haughty actress diademed, covered with pearls. But how did these 
letters come to be in my mother’s trunk? I never found out. 

The year 1910 came to Temuco. That memorable year I 
started school, in a rambling mansion with sparsely furnished 
rooms and a gloomy basement. In the spring we could see from 
the school the graceful Cautin River winding its way down be- 
low, its shores bordered with wild-apple trees. We used to sneak 
out of class to dip our feet in the cold water running over the 
white stones. 

The school opened infinite vistas for this six-year-old. Any- 
thing might contain a mystery. The physics lab, which I was not 
allowed to enter— filled with glistening instruments, retorts, and 
test tubes. The library, forever closed. The sons of settlers had no 
love of book learning. Still, the cellar was the most fascinating 
place of all. There was a deep silence, a deep darkness, but with 
candles to light it up for us, we used to play war games there. The 
victors would tie their prisoners to some ancient columns. The 
odor of dampness, of a hideaway, a tomb, given off by the school 
basement in Temuco, still haunts my memory. 

I grew older. Books began to interest me. Buffalo Bill’s adven- 
tures and Salgari’s voyages carried me far into the world of 
dreams. My first loves, the purest ones, found expression in letters 
to Blanca Wilson, the blacksmith’s daughter. One of the boys had 
fallen head over heels in love with her and asked me to write his 
love letters. I don’t remember what these letters were like exactly, 
but they may have been my first literary achievement, because 
one day, when I ran into this schoolgirl, she asked if I was the 
author of the letters her sweetheart brought her. I couldn’t deny 
my work and I said yes, very embarrassed. Then she handed me a 
quince, which of course I would not eat and put away like a 



treasure. Having thus replaced my friend in the girl’s heart, I 
went on writing endless love letters to her and receiving quinces. 

The boys in school didn’t know I was a poet and wouldn’t have 
respected me for it. The frontier still had its marvelous quality of 
a Wild West without prejudices. My companions’ names were 
Schnake, Schler, Hauser, Smith, Taito, Seranis. All of us, includ- 
ing the Aracenas and the Ramirezes and the Reyes, were equal. 
There were no Basque family names. There were Sephardim: 
Albalas, Francos. And Irish: McGintys. Poles: Yanichewskys. 
The Araucanian names gave off a mysterious light, an aroma of 
wood and water: Melivilus, Catrileos. 

Sometimes we would fight with acorns in the huge closed-in 
shed. Anyone who has never been hit by an acorn doesn’t know 
how much it really hurts. Before reaching school, we would stuff 
our pockets with ammunition. I had little skill, no strength, and not 
much cunning. I always got the worst of it. While I was busy 
examining the marvelous acorn, green and polished, with its gray, 
wrinkled hood, or while I was still trying clumsily to make one of 
those pipes they eventually would grab away from me, a down- 
pour of acorns would pelt my head. During my second year, I 
decided to wear a bright green rain hat. It belonged to my father, 
like the heavy woolen cape, the red and green signal lanterns, 
which I found so fascinating and took to school as soon as I got 
the chance, to strut around with them . . . This time it was 
pouring and there was nothing so fantastic as the green oilskin hat 
that looked like a parrot. The moment I reached the shed, where 
three hundred roughnecks were chasing around like madmen, my 
hat flew off like a parrot. I ran after it, and each time I was about 
to catch it, off it flew, followed by the most deafening howls I 
have ever heard. I never laid eyes on it again. 

Among these memories I can’t see clearly the precise order of 
time. I confuse insignificant events that were very special to me, 
and this one coming back to my mind now seems to have been my 
first erotic adventure, strangely mixed in with natural history. 
Perhaps love and nature were, very early on, the source of my 

Across from my house lived two girls who were always giving 
me looks that made my face turn red. They were as precocious 
and diabolical as I was timid and quiet. This time I stood in my 


The Country Boy 

doorway trying not to look at them; they were holding some- 
thing that fascinated me. I went closer, gingerly, and they showed 
me a wild bird’s nest, woven together with moss and tiny 
feathers; in it were several marvelous little turquoise-blue eggs. 
When I reached for it, one of the girls told me that they would 
have to feel through my clothes first. I was so scared I started to 
tremble and scurried away, pursued by the young nymphs hold- 
ing the exciting treasure over their heads. During the chase, I 
went into an alley leading to a vacant bakery owned by my father. 
My assailants managed to catch me and had started to strip off my 
trousers, when we heard my father’s footsteps coming down the 
passage. That was the end of the nest. The marvelous little eggs 
were left shattered, while under a counter we, the attacked and 
the attackers, held our breath. 

I 4 Iso recall that one day, while hunting behind my house for 
the tiny objects and minuscule beings of my world, I discovered a 
hole in one of the fence boards. I looked through the opening and 
saw a patch of land just like ours, untended and wild. I drew back 
a few steps, because I had a vague feeling that something was 
about to happen. Suddenly a hand came through. It was the small 
hand of a boy my own age. When I moved closer, the hand was 
gone and in its place was a little white sheep. 

It was a sheep made of wool that had faded. The wheels on 
which it had glided were gone. I had never seen such a lovely 
sheep. I went into my house and came back with a gift, which I 
left in the same place: a pine cone, partly open, fragrant and 
resinous, and very precious to me. 

I never saw the boy’s hand again. I have never again seen a little 
sheep like that one. I lost it in a fire. And even today, when I go 
past a toy shop, I look in the windows furtively. But it’s no use. A 
sheep like that one was never made again. 


Just as the cold, the rain, the mud in the streets— that is, the 
nagging and crumbling winter of the southern part of America— 
came down on us, so too the yellow, scorching summer visited 
these regions. We were surrounded by unexplored mountains, 
but I wanted to know the sea. Providentially, my obliging father 



was loaned a house by one of his numerous railroad friends. In 
total darkness, at four o’clock in the night (1 have never found 
out why they say four in the morning), my father woke up the 
whole house with his conductor’s whistle. From that moment 
on, there was no rest, or any light either, and surrounded by 
candles whose tiny flames were battered by the drafts filtering 
in everywhere, my mother, my brother and sister Rodolfo 
and Laura, and the cook ran to and fro, doing up mattresses 
into enormous balls wrapped in burlap that were hastily rolled 
out of the way by the women. The beds had to be put aboard 
the train. The mattresses were still warm when they left for 
the nearby station. Sickly and weak by nature, and startled 
out of sleep, I felt nauseated and chilled to the bone. All the 
while, the fuss around the house went on, never ending. Every- 
thing was taken along on that month-long, poor man’s vacation. 
Even the wicker dryers that were laid over the lit braziers to dry 
the sheets and clothes ever damp in that climate were tagged and 
bundled into the cart waiting outside for the luggage. 

The train’s run was the stretch of that cold province between 
Temuco and Carahue. It crossed immense, unpopulated, unculti- 
vated terrain, crossed virgin forests, rumbled through tunnels and 
over bridges, like an earthquake. The way stations were isolated 
in that wide countryside, among mimosas and flowering apple 
trees. In their ritual dress and ancestral majesty, Araucanian In- 
dians waited at the stations to sell lambs, chickens, eggs, and tex- 
tiles to the passengers. My father always bought something, after 
endless bargaining. His blond goatee was something to watch as 
he picked up a hen in front of some inscrutable Araucanian 
woman who would not lower the price of her merchandise by 
half a cent. 

Each station had a lovelier name, almost all of them inherited 
from the ancient Araucanian. This was the region of the bloodiest 
battles between the invading Spaniards and the first Chileans, 
deep-rooted sons of the land. 

Labranza was the first station. Boroa and Ranquilco followed. 
Names with the fragrance of wild plants, the sound of their syl- 
lables captivated me. These Araucanian names always signified 
something delicious: buried honey, lagoons or a river beside a 
forest, or a woodland with the name of a bird. We passed the 


The Country Boy 

hamlet of Imperial, where the poet Don Alonso de Ercilla was 
nearly executed by the Spanish governor. This was the capital of 
the conquistadors in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. During 
their war of independence the Araucanians invented the tactic of 
“scorched earth.” They did not leave one building standing in the 
city described by Ercilla as beautiful and proud. 

And then we came to the city on the river. The train whistled 
cheerfully, darkening the countryside and the station with giant 
plumes of coal smoke, bells clanged, and you could now smell the 
wide, sky-blue, and tranquil Imperial River as it ran to the ocean. 
Taking down the countless pieces of luggage, getting the small 
family organized and going in the oxcart to the boat that would 
ride down the Imperial River was quite a production, directed, of 
course, by my father’s blue eyes and his railwayman’s whistle. 
We squeezed both the luggage and ourselves into the small boat 
that would take us to the sea. There were no berths. I sat near the 
bow. The wheels churned the river currents with their paddles, 
the small vessel’s engines snorted and whined, and the taciturn 
southerners were spread about on the deck like motionless pieces 
of furniture. 

An accordion broke into its romantic plea, its love call. Noth- 
ing can flood a fifteen-year-old’s heart with feeling like a voyage 
down a strange, wide river, between steep banks, on the way to 
the mysterious sea. 

Bajo Imperial was only a string of houses with red roofs. It was 
situated on the river’s brow. From the house that had been await- 
ing us and, even before, from the rickety piers where the little 
steamer tied up, I heard the ocean thundering in the distance, a 
commotion far away. The sea swells were coming into my life. 

The house belonged to Don Horacio Pacheco, a giant of a 
farmer who, all during the month we took over his house, went 
up and down the hills and impassable roads driving his trac- 
tor and thresher. With his machine he harvested the wheat of the 
Indians and those peasants cut off from coastal towns. He was a 
huge man who would suddenly burst in upon our railwayman’s 
family with a booming voice, his body covered with cereal dust 
and straw. Then he would return just as noisily to his work in the 
mountains. For me he was one more example of the hard life in 
our southern region. 



I found everything mysterious in that house, in the neglected 
streets, in the unknown lives around me, in the deep roar of the 
sea far off. The house had what seemed to me a huge, straggly 
garden and, in the center of this, a summerhouse battered by the 
rain, a summerhouse of white slats covered with vines. No one 
except me, a mere nobody, ever penetrated this gray solitude, 
where the ivy, the honeysuckle, and my poetry thrived. And 
there was another fascinating thing in that strange garden: a huge 
lifeboat, orphaned in some great shipwreck and now stranded in 
this garden without waves or storms, a castaway among the 

The strange thing about this unkempt garden was that, by de- 
sign or through neglect, only poppies grew there. The other 
plants had disappeared from this gloomy corner. Some were huge 
and white like doves, some scarlet like drops of blood, some 
purple or black, like widows forgotten there. I had never seen 
such a wilderness of poppies, and I have never seen another like it. 
And though I had a deep respect for them, and a superstitious 
dread only they, of all flowers, inspire in me, that did not stop me 
from snapping one off, now and again, the broken stem leaving 
sticky milk on my hands and a whiff of unearthly perfume. Then 
I would stroke its sumptuous petals lovingly and put them into a 
book to keep. To me they were the wings of huge butterflies that 
couldn’t fly. 

The first time I stood before the sea, I was overwhelmed. 
The great ocean unleashed its fury there between two big hills, 
Huilque and Maule. It wasn’t just the immense snow-crested 
swells, rising many meters above our heads, but the loud pound- 
ing of a gigantic heart, the heartbeat of the universe. 

The family laid out its table linen and tea things in that spot. 
The food reached my mouth sprinkled with sand, but I didn’t 
care. What terrified me was the apocalyptic moment when my 
father ordered us to take our daily swim. Far back from the giant 
rollers, my sister Laura and I were splashed by the water’s icy 
lash. And we trembled, believing that some wave’s finger would 
hook us into the mountains of the sea. When, our teeth chattering 
and our ribs blue, my sister and I prepared to die, hand in hand, 
the railwayman’s whistle blew and my father’s voice freed us 
from martyrdom. 

I’ll tell about other mysteries in that place. One of these was the 


The Country Boy 

Percherons, and another the house of the three enchanted sisters. 

Several big buildings stood at the end of the small village. They 
may have been tanneries, owned by French Basques, who almost 
always ran the leather industry in southern Chile. I don’t really 
know what they were used for. All I was interested in was watch- 
ing the huge horses that came out of the front gates toward 
sundown and crossed the town. 

They were Percherons, gigantic colts and mares. Their long 
manes fell down their very tall backs like human hair. They had 
enormous legs, also covered with tufts of hair that waved like 
huge plumes when they galloped off. They were deep red, white, 
roan, powerful. That’s how volcanoes would have moved, if 
they had been able to trot and gallop like those colossal horses. 
They would go down the dusty, rocky streets like the violent 
shock of an earthquake. They whinnied huskily, producing sub- 
terranean sounds that sent a shudder through the quiet air. I have 
never again in my life seen such arrogant, massive, and statuesque 
horses, except perhaps for those I saw in China carved in stone for 
the tombs of the Ming dynasty. But even the most venerable 
stone cannot provide a sight like those huge animals that seemed, 
in my childish eyes, to emerge from the darkness of dreams, 
headed for some other-world of giants. 

In fact, that untamed world was filled with horses. Chilean, 
German, and Araucanian riders, all wearing ponchos of black 
Castilian wool, mounted and dismounted in the streets. Scrawny 
or well fed, shabby or sleek, the horses stayed where the riders 
left them, munching on the grass, with steam coming out of 
their nostrils. They were accustomed to their masters and to the 
lonely life of the settlement. Later they would return, loaded 
down with sacks of food or farm implements, to the labyrinthine 
highlands, climbing up dreadful roads or endlessly galloping over 
the sand by the sea. From time to time an Araucanian rider would 
come out of a pawnshop or a dim tavern, mount his unperturbed 
horse with difficulty, and take the road back to his home in the 
hills, swaying from side to side, drunk to the point of unconscious- 
ness. As I watched him start off on his journey, it seemed to me 
that the tipsy centaur was about to fall every time he lurched 
dangerously, but I was wrong: he always righted himself, only to 
double over again, swaying toward the other side and always 
recovering, glued to the saddle. He covered mile after mile, sitting 



his horse like that, until he merged into the wild world of nature 
like an animal unsure of its way but mysteriously protected. 

We returned many other summers, with the same household 
ceremonies, to that fascinating region. With the passing of time, 
between the bitter winters in Temuco and the wonder-filled sum- 
mers on the coast, I was growing up, reading, falling in love, and 

I got used to riding on horseback. My world expanded upward 
and outward along the towering mud trails, over roads with sud- 
den curves. I encountered the tangled vegetation, the silence or 
the sounds of wild birds, the sudden outburst of a flowering tree 
dressed in scarlet robes like a gigantic archbishop of the moun- 
tains, or snowed under by a riot of blossoms I had never seen 
before. Or from time to time, when least expected, the copihue 
bell-flower, wild, untamable, indestructible, dangling from the 
thickets like a drop of fresh blood. Slowly I got used to the horse, 
the saddle, the stiff, complicated riding gear, the cruel spurs jan- 
gling at my heels. Along endless beaches or thicketed hills, a com- 
munion was started between my spirit— that is, my poetry— and 
the loneliest land in the world. This was many years ago, but that 
communion, that revelation, that pact with the wilderness, is still 
a part of my life. 


Now I am going to tell you a story about birds. In Lake Budi, 
swans were brutally hunted. They were stalked quietly in boats 
and then, rowing faster, faster . . . Swans, like the albatross, 
take to the air clumsily, they have to make a run, skimming the 
water. They lift their huge wings heavily, and so were easily 
caught, and finished off with sticks. 

Someone brought me a swan that was half dead. It was one of 
those magnificent birds I have not seen again anywhere in the 
world, a black-necked swan. A snowy vessel with its slender neck 
looking as if squeezed into a black silk stocking, its beak an orange 
color and its eyes red. 

This happened at the seaside, in Puerto Saavedra, Imperial del 

It was almost dead when they gave it to me. I bathed its 
wounds and stuffed bits of bread and fish down its throat. It 

The Country Boy 


threw up everything. But it recovered from its injuries gradually 
and began to realize that I was its friend. And I began to realize 
that homesickness was killing it. So I went down the streets to the 
river, with the heavy bird in my arms. It swam a little way, close 
by. I wanted it to fish and showed it the pd)bles on the bottom, 
the sand the silver fish of the south went gliding over. But its sad 
eyes wandered off into the distance. 

I carried it to the river and back to my house every day for 
more than twenty days. The swan was almost as tall as I. One 
afternoon it seemed dreamier; it swam near me but wasn’t enter- 
tained by my ruses for trying to teach it how to fish again. It was 
very still and I picked it up in my arms to take it home. But when 
I held it up to my breast, I felt a ribbon unrolling, and something 
like a black arm brushed my face. It was the long, sinuous neck 
falling. That’s how I found out that swans, don’t sing when they 

Summer is like fire in Cauti'n. It scorches the sky and the wheat. 
The land would like to shake off its lethargy. The houses are not 
prepared for summer, just as they were not prepared for winter. I 
wander off into the countryside and I walk, walk, walk. I become 
lost on 5Iielol Hill. I am alone, my pocket filled with beetles. In a 
box I carry a hairy spider I just caught. Overhead, the sky can’t 
be seen. The forest is always damp, my feet slip. Suddenly a bird 
cries out, it’s the ghostly cry of the chucao bird. A chill of warn- 
ing creeps upward from my feet. The copihues, drops of blood, 
can barely be made out. I am only a tiny creature under the giant 
ferns. A ringdove flies right past my mouth, with a snapping 
sound of wings. Higher up, other birds laugh harshly, mocking 
me. I have trouble finding my way back. It’s late now. 

My father is not here yet. He will be back at three or four in 
the morning. I go upstairs to my room. I read Salgari. The rain 
pours down like a waterfall. In less than no time, night and the 
rain cover the whole world. I am alone, writing poems in my 
math notebook. I am up very early the next morning. The plums 
are green. I charge up the slopes. I carry a little packet of salt with 
me. I climb a tree, make myself comfortable, bite a little chunk 
out of a plum carefully, and dip the plum into the salt. 1 eat it. 
And I repeat this, up to one hundred plums. I know I’m over- 
doing it. 



Our other house burned down, and this new one is filled with 
mystery. I climb up on the fence and I watch for the neighbors. 
There is no one around. I lift up some logs. Nothing but a few 
measly spiders. The toilet is at the back of the place. The trees 
next to it have caterpillars. The almond trees display their fruit 
covered with white down. I know how to catch bumblebees 
without harming them, with a handkerchief. I keep them captive 
for a little while and hold them up to my ears. What a beautiful 

How lonely a small boy poet, dressed in black, feels on the vast 
and terrifying frontier wilderness! Little by little, life and books 
give me glimpses of overwhelming mysteries. 

I can’t forget what I read last night: in faraway Malaysia, 
Sandokan and his friends survived on breadfruit. 

I don’t like Buffalo Bill, because he kills Indians. But he’s such a 
good cowpuncher! The plains and the cone-shaped tepees of the 
redskins are so beautiful! 

I have often been asked when I wrote my first poem, when 
poetry was born in me. 

I’ll try to remember. Once, far back in my childhood, when I 
had barely learned to read, I felt an intense emotion and set down 
a few words, half rhymed but strange to me, different from every- 
day language. Overcome by a deep anxiety, something I had not 
experienced before, a kind of anguish and sadness, I wrote them 
neatly on a piece of paper. It was a poem to my mother, that is, to 
the one I knew, the angelic stepmother whose gentle shadow 
watched over my childhood. I had no way at all of judging my 
first composition, which I took to my parents. They were in the 
dining room, immersed in one of those hushed conversations that, 
more than a river, separate the world of children and the world of 
grownups. Still trembling after this first visit from the muse, I 
held out to them the paper with the lines of verse. My father took 
it absentmindedly, read it absentmindedly, and returned it to me 
absentmindedly, saying: “Where did you copy this from?” Then 
he went on talking to my mother in a lowered voice about his 
important and remote affairs. 

That, I seem to remember, was how my first poem was bom, 
and that was how I had my first sample of irresponsible literary 


The Country Boy 

And all the while I was moving in the world of knowing, on 
the turbulent river of books, like a solitary navigator. My appetite 
for reading did not let up day or night. On the coast, in the tiny 
town of Puerto Saavedra, I found a public library and an old 
poet, Don Augusto Winter, who was impressed by my literary 
voracity. “Have you read them already?” he would say to me, 
handing me a new Vargas Vila, an Ibsen, a Rocambole. I gobbled 
up everything, indiscriminately, like an ostrich. 

Around this time, a tall lady who wore long long dresses and 
flat shoes came to Temuco. She was the new principal of the girls’ 
school. She was from our southernmost city, from Magellan’s 
snows. Her name was Gabriela Mistral. 

I used to watch her passing through the streets of my home 
town, with her sweeping dresses, and I was scared of her. But 
when I was taken to visit her, I found her to be very gracious. In 
her dark face, as Indian as a lovely Araucanian pitcher, her very 
white teeth flashed in a full, generous smile that lit up the room. 

I was too young to be her friend, and too shy and taken up 
with myself. I saw her only a few times, but I always went away 
with some books she gave me. They were invariably Russian 
novels, which she considered the most extraordinary thing in 
world literature. I can say that Gabriela introduced me to the 
dark and terrifying vision of the Russian novelists and that Tol- 
stoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov soon occupied a special place 
deep within me. They are with me still. 


One time I was invited to a threshing; it was to be done in the 
old way, with mares. The place was high up in the mountains and 
pretty far from town. I liked the adventure of going off by my- 
self, figuring out the right route in that mountainous country. I 
thought if I got lost, somebody would help me out. On my horse, 
I left Bajo Imperial behind and narrowly made it across the sand 
bar of the river. There the Pacific breaks loose and attacks, again 
and again, the rocks and the clumps of bushes on Maule Hill, the 
last height, standing very tall. Then I turned off along the shore 
of Lake Budi. The surf pounded the foot of the hill with savage 
blows. I had to take advantage of the few minutes that elapsed 



when a wave smashed and pulled itself in to regain its strength. 
We would hurry across the strip between the hill and the water, 
before a new wave could crush us, my horse and me, against the 
rugged hillside. 

The danger past, the smooth blue sheet of the lake opened out 
to the west. The sandy coast ran on endlessly toward the mouth 
of Lake Token, a long way off. These coasts of Chile, often 
rugged and craggy, suddenly turn into endless ribbons and you 
can go for days and nights over the sand, close to the sea’s foam. 

The beaches seem infinite, forming, along the length of Chile, 
something like a planet’s ring, a winding hand, pursued relent- 
lessly by the roar of the southern seas: a trail that appears to go 
around the coast of Chile and beyond the South Pole. 

On the forested side, hazel trees with shining dark green 
branches waved to me, some trimmed with clusters of fruit, hazel- 
nuts that seemed to be painted vermilion, so red are they at that 
time of year. The giant ferns of southern Chile were so tall that 
we could pass under their branches without touching them, my 
horse and I. Whenever my head brushed against their green, a 
shower of dew would drench us. Lake Budi spread out on my 
right: a steady blue sheet bordered by far-off woods. 

It was only at the end of the lake that I saw some people. They 
were strange fishermen. In that strip where the ocean and the lake 
join, or embrace, or clash, between the two waters, there were 
some salt-water fish, cast out by the rough waves. The huge 
loaches were specially coveted, broad silver fish, strays thrashing 
about on those shoals. One, two, three, four, five fishermen, erect, 
concentrating, watched for the wake of the lost fish and suddenly 
brought a long trident down on the water with a terrific blow. 
Then they lifted high the oval-shaped silver fish, shuddering and 
gleaming in the sun before dying in the fishermen’s baskets. It was 
growing late. I had left the banks of the lake and moved inland 
looking for the road along the jagged spurs of the hills. Darkness 
was inching in. Suddenly the wail of a strange wild bird passed 
overhead like a hoarse moan. An eagle or a condor high up in the 
twilight sky seemed to halt its black wings, as a signal that I was 
there, following me in its heavy flight. Red-tailed foxes howled or 
barked or streaked across the road, and small predatory animals of 
the secret forest that were unknown to me. 

The Country Boy 2$ 

I realized that I had lost my way. The night and the forest 
which had made me so happy became menacing now, they filled 
me with terror. One solitary traveler appeared unexpectedly in 
front of me, in the darkening loneliness of the road. As we ap- 
proached each other, I stopped and saw that he was just one 
more of those rough peasants, with cheap poncho and scrawny 
horse, who emerged from the silence every now and then. 

I told him what had happened to me. 

He answered that I couldn’t get to the threshing that night. He 
knew each and every corner of that terrain. He knew the exact 
spot where they were threshing. I told him I didn’t want to spend 
the night outdoors and asked if he could tell me where I might 
find shelter till daybreak. He instructed me, in a few words, to go 
two leagues down a small trail that branched off from the road. 

“You’ll see the lights of a big two-story frame house in the 
distarice,” he told me. 

“Is it a hotel?” I asked him. 

“No, young man. But you’ll be welcomed. They’re three 
French ladies, in the lumber business, who’ve been living there 
thirty years now. They’re nice to everybody. They’ll put you 

I thanked the horseman for his meager counsel and he trotted 
off on his rickety nag. I continued along the narrow trail, like a 
lost soul. A virgin moon, curved and white like a fragment of 
fingernail newly clipped off, was starting its climb up the sky. 

About nine o’clock that night, I made out lights that could only 
be a house. I spurred my horse on before bolts and crossbars 
could block my way to that God-sent haven. I went in the gate of 
the property and, dodging logs and hills of sawdust, I reached the 
entrance, or white portico, of that house lost so far out of the 
way in the wilderness. I rapped on the door, softly at first, and 
then harder. Some minutes passed, the dreadful thought that no 
one was there running through my head, before a slender white- 
haired lady dressed in black appeared. She examined me with 
stern eyes, opening the door part way to question so late a 

“Who are you? What do you want?” a quiet, ghostly voice 

“I’ve lost my way in the forest. I’m a student. I was invited to 

2 4 


the threshing at the Hernandezes’. I’m very tired. Someone told 
me you and your sisters are very hospitable. I’d just like a comer 
to sleep in, and I’ll be on my way at daybreak.” 

“Do come in,” she said. “Please feel at home.” 

She led me to a dark parlor and lit two or three paraffin lamps. I 
noticed that they were lovely art-nouveau lamps, opaline and gilt 
bronze. The room had a dank smell. Long, red draperies shielded 
the tall windows. The armchairs were under white slipcovers to 
protect them. From what? 

It was a room from some other century, hard to place and as 
disquieting as a dream. The white-haired lady, wistful, in black, 
moved about on feet I couldn’t see, with steps I couldn’t hear, her 
hands touching first this, then that, an album, a fan, here, there, in 
the silence. 

I felt as if I had fallen to the bottom of a lake and lived on, 
exhausted, dreaming down there. Suddenly two ladies, just like 
the one who had received me, came in. It was late and it was cold. 
They sat close to me, one with the vague smile of someone flirting 
just a little, the other with the melancholy eyes of the one who 
had opened the door. 

Suddenly the conversation wandered very far from that out-of- 
the-way countryside, far also from the night drilled through by 
thousands of insects, the croaking of frogs, and the songs of night 
birds. They wanted to know all about my studies. I happened to 
mention Baudelaire, and told them I had started to translate his 

It was like an electric spark. The three dim ladies lit up. Their 
lifeless eyes and their stiff faces were transfigured, as if three 
ancient masks had dropped from their ancient features. 

“Baudelaire!” they exclaimed. “This is probably the first time 
since the beginning of the world that anyone has spoken his name 
in this lonely place. We have his Fleurs du mal here. We’re the 
only ones, for five hundred kilometers around, who can read his 
marvelous pages. No one in these mountains knows any French.” 

Two of the sisters had been born in Avignon. The youngest, 
also of French blood, was Chilean by birth. Their grandparents, 
their parents, all their relatives, had died a long time ago. The 
three had grown accustomed to the rain, to the wind, to the 
sawdust from the mill, to having contact with only a very few 


The Country Boy 

primitive peasants and country servants. They had decided to 
remain there, the only house in those shaggy mountains. 

An Indian servant girl came in and whispered something into 
the ear of the eldest lady. We went out then, down chilly hall- 
ways, until we came to the dining room. I was stunned. In the 
center of the room, a round table with trailing white tablecloth 
was illuminated by two silver candelabra with many burning 
candles. Silver and crystal glittered on that amazing table. 

I was overcome by great timidity, as if Queen Victoria had 
invited me to dine at her palace. I had arrived disheveled, ex- 
hausted, and covered with dust, and this was a table fit for a 
prince. I was far from being one. And to them I must have looked 
more like a sweaty mule driver who had left his drove at their 

I have seldom eaten so well. My hostesses were masters of the 
art df cooking and had as a legacy from their grandparents the 
recipes of their beloved France. Each dish was a surprise, tasty 
and aromatic. From their cellars they brought out vintage wines, 
aged by them in the special French way. 

Although weariness would suddenly close my eyes, I listened to 
them speaking of strange wonders. The sisters’ greatest pride 
was the fine points of cookery. For them, the table was the 
preservation of a sacred heritage, of a culture to which they, 
separated from their country by time and great oceans, would 
never return. Laughing a little at themselves, they showed me a 
curious card file. 

“We’re just crazy old women,” the youngest said. 

Over the past thirty years they had been visited by twenty- 
seven travelers who had come as far as this remote house, some on 
business, others out of mere curiosity, still others, like myself, by 
chance. The incredible thing was that they had a personal file for 
every one of them, with the date of the visit and the menu they 
had prepared on each occasion. 

“We save the menu so as not to repeat even a single dish, if 
those friends should ever return.” 

I went off to sleep and dropped into bed like a sack of onions in 
a market. At dawn I lit a candle, washed up, and got dressed. It 
was already getting light when one of the stable boys saddled my 
horse. I didn’t have the heart to say goodbye to the kind ladies in 



black. Deep in me, something told me it had all been a strange, 
magical dream, and that, to keep from breaking the spell, I must 
try not to wake up. 

All this happened forty-five years ago, when I was just entering 
adolescence. What became of those three ladies exiled with their 
Fleurs du mal in the heart of the virgin forest? What happened to 
their bottles of old wine, their resplendent table lit by twenty wax 
candles? What was the fate of the sawmill and the white house 
lost among the trees? 

The simplest fate: death and oblivion. Perhaps the forest de- 
voured those lives and those rooms that took me in, one unforget- 
table night. Yet they live on in my memory as in the clear bed of 
a lake of dreams. Honor to those three melancholy women who 
struggled in that wild solitude, with no practical purpose, to main- 
tain an old-world elegance. They defended what their ancestors 
had forged with their own hands, the last traces of an exquisite 
culture, far off in the wilderness, at the last boundaries of the most 
impenetrable and lonely mountains in the world. 


I reached the Hernandez camp before noon, fresh and cheerful. 
My solitary ride over empty roads, and a good night’s sleep, had 
given my reticent young face a certain glow. 

The threshing of wheat, oats, barley was still done with mares. 
There is nothing gayer in the world than the sight of mares cir- 
cling, trotting around a heap of grain, under the goading shouts 
of the riders. There was a splendid sun, and the air, an uncut 
diamond, made the mountains glitter. The threshing is a golden 
feast. The yellow straw piles up into golden hills; there’s noise 
and activity everywhere; sacks rushing to get filled; women cook- 
ing; runaway horses; dogs barking; children who are constantly 
having to be plucked— like fruit borne by the straw— from under 
the horses’ hoofs. 

The Hernandezes were a unique tribe. The men were unkempt 
and unshaven, in shirtsleeves, with revolvers in their belts, and 
almost always splattered with grease, with dust from the grain, 
with mud, or soaked to the bone by rain. Fathers, sons, nephews, 
cousins all looked alike. They spent hours on end working under 
a motor, on a roof, perched on a threshing machine. They never 

2 7 

The Country Boy 

had anything to talk about. They joked about everything, except 
when they got into a brawl. Then they fought, with the fury of a 
tornado, knocking down anything that stood in their way. They 
were always the first to get to the beef barbecues out in the open 
fields, to the red wine and the brooding guitars. They were fron- 
tiersmen, the kind of people I liked. Studious-looking and pale, I 
felt puny next to those vigorous brutes; and I don’t know why, 
but they treated me with a deference they generally didn’t show 

After the barbecue, the guitars, the blinding fatigue brought on 
by the sun and the threshing, we had to find a makeshift bed for 
the night. Married couples and women who were alone bedded 
down on the ground, inside the camp walls put up with freshly 
cut boards. We males had to sleep on the threshing floor. This 
rose into a mountain of straw and a whole hamlet could have 
settled into its yellow softness. 

All this lack of comfort was new to me. I didn’t know how to 
go about spreading out. I put my shoes carefully under a layer of 
wheat straw, and this was to serve as my pillow. I took off my 
clothes, bundled myself up in my poncho, and sank into the 
mountain of straw. I lagged far behind all the others, who gave 
themselves up to their snoring at once, as one man. 

I lay stretched out on my back for a long while, with my eyes 
open, my face and arms covered with straw. The night was clear, 
cold, and penetrating. There was no moon, but the stars looked as 
if they had recently been watered by the rain and, high above the 
unseeing sleep of all the others, they twinkled in the sky’s lap just 
for me. Then I fell asleep. But I woke up suddenly, because some- 
thing was coming toward me, a stranger’s body was moving 
through the straw and coming closer to mine. I was afraid. The 
thing was slowly drawing closer. I could hear the wisps of straw 
snapping, crushed by the unknown shape that kept moving toward 
me. My whole body stiffened, waiting. Maybe I ought to get up 
and yell. I remained stock-still. I could hear breathing right next 
to my head. 

Suddenly a hand slid over me, a large, calloused hand, but it 
was a woman’s. It ran over my brow, my eyes, my whole face, 
tenderly. Then an avid mouth clung to mine and I felt a woman’s 
body pressing against mine, all the way down to my feet. 

Little by little my fear turned into intense pleasure. My hand 



slid over braided hair, a smooth brow, eyes with closed lids soft as 
poppies, and went on exploring. I felt two breasts that were full 
and firm, broad, rounded buttocks, legs that locked around me, 
and I sank my fingers into pubic hair like mountain moss. Not a 
word came from that anonymous mouth. 

How difficult it is to make love, without making noise, in a 
mountain of straw burrowed by the bodies of seven or eight 
other men, sleeping men who must not be awakened for anything 
in the world. And yet we can do anything, though it may require 
infinite care. A little while later, the stranger suddenly fell asleep 
next to me, and worked into a fever by tbe situation, I started to 
get panicky. It would soon be daybreak, I thought, and the first 
workers would discover the naked woman stretched out beside 
me on the threshing floor. But I also fell asleep. When I woke up, 
I put out a startled hand and found only a warm hollow, a warm 
absence. Soon a bird began to sing and then the whole forest filled 
with warbling. There was a long blast from a motor horn, and 
men and women began moving about and turning to their chores. 
A new day of threshing was getting underway. 

At midday all of us had lunch together around a makeshift 
table of long planks. I looked out of the corners of my eyes as I 
ate, trying to find which of the women could have been my night 
visitor. But some were too old, others too skinny, and many were 
merely young girls as thin as sardines. And I was looking for a 
well-built woman with full breasts and long, braided hair. Sud- 
denly a woman came in with a piece of roast for her husband, one 
of the Hernandez men. This certainly could be the one. As I 
watched her from the other end of the table, I was sure I caught 
this attractive woman in long braids throwing me a quick glance 
and the slightest of smiles. And I felt as if the smile was growing 
broader and deeper, opening up inside my whole being. 


Lost in the City 



A fter many years of school, and the struggle through the math 
k exam each December, I was outwardly prepared to face the 
university in Santiago. I say outwardly because my head was 
filled with books, dreams, and poems buzzing around like bees. 

Carrying a metal trunk, wearing the requisite black suit of the 
poet, all skin and bones, thin-featured as a knife, I boarded the 
third-class section of a night train that took an interminable day 
and night to reach Santiago. 

This long train crossed different zones and climates; I took it so 
many times and it still holds a strange fascination for me. Peasants 
with wet ponchos and baskets filled with chickens, uncommunica- 
tive Indians— an entire life unfolded in the third-class coach. 
Quite a number of people traveled without paying, under the 
seats. Whenever the ticket collector came around, a metamorpho- 
sis took place. Many disappeared, and others might hide under a 
poncho on which two passengers immediately pretended to play a 
game of cards, to keep the conductor from noticing the impro- 
vised table. 

Meanwhile, the train passed from the countryside covered with 
oaks and araucaria trees and frame houses with sodden walls to 
the poplars and the dusty adobe buildings of central Chile. I made 
the round trip between the capital and the provinces many times, 
but I always felt myself stifling as soon as I left the great forests, 

3 ° 


the timberland that drew me back like a mother. To me, the adobe 
houses, the cities with a past, seemed to be filled with cobwebs 
and silence. Even now I am still a poet of the great outdoors, of 
the cold forest that was lost to me after that. 

I brought my references to a rooming house at 513 Maruri 
Street. Nothing can make me forget this number. I forget all 
kinds of dates, even years, but the number 5 1 3 is still in my mind, 
where I engraved it so many years ago, fearing I would never find 
that rooming house and would lose my way in the strange, awe- 
inspiring city. On the street just mentioned I used to sit out on the 
balcony and watch the dying afternoon, the sky with its green 
and crimson banners, the desolation of the rooftops on the edge 
of town threatened by the burning sky. 

At that time, living in a rooming house for students meant 
starvation. I wrote a lot more than I had up until then, but I ate a 
lot less. Some of the poets I knew in those days broke down under 
the strict diet of poverty. Among them, I remember Romeo 
Murga, a poet my own age but much taller and gawkier than I, 
whose subtle lyric poetry was filled with emanations that lingered 
wherever it was heard. 

Romeo Murga and I went to read our poetry together in the 
city of San Bernardo, near the capital. Before we took the stage, 
everyone had been in a festive mood, watching the queen of the 
Floral Games— fair and blond— with her court, and enjoying the 
speeches of the town dignitaries, and the so-called local bands; but 
when I went on and began reciting my poems in the most 
wretched voice in the world, everything changed. The audience 
coughed, joked about me, and had a good time laughing at my 
melancholy poems. Seeing this reaction from the barbarians, I 
rushed through my reading and left the stage to my companion, 
Romeo Murga. It was something to remember. When this Quixote, 
over six feet tall, with dark, frayed clothes, came on and began 
reading in a voice that was even more wretched than mine, 
no one in the audience could hold back his indignation and they 
all began to shout: You starving poets! Get out! Don’t spoil the 

I moved out of the Maruri Street rooming house like a mollusk 
leaving its shell. I said goodbye to that shell and went out to 

3 * 

Lost in the City 

explore the sea— that is, the world. The unknown sea was the 
streets of Santiago, which I had seen almost nothing of, as I 
walked back and forth between the university and the room I was 
now leaving for good. 

I knew that during this adventure there would be more of the 
old hunger to face. At least my former landladies, remotely linked 
to my part of the country, mercifully doled out a potato or an 
onion from time to time. But I could not help it: life, love, glory, 
freedom called to me. Or so it seemed. 

I rented the first room where I was completely on my own, 
over on Arguelles Street, near the Teachers Institute. A sign 
peered through a window on that gray street: “Rooms for rent.” 
The landlord lived in the front rooms. He was a man with gray- 
ing hair, a noble bearing, and eyes that seemed odd to me. He was 
talkative and quite eloquent, and he earned a living as a ladies’ 
hairdresser, an occupation he shrugged off. He explained that he 
was more interested in the invisible world, the world of the be- 

I unpacked my books and the few clothes I possessed, from the 
trunk that had traveled with me from Temuco, and I stretched 
out in bed to read and sleep, filled with pride at my independence 
and my idleness. 

The house had no patio, only a gallery lined with innumerable 
closed rooms. The next morning, as I explored the nooks and 
crannies of the lonely mansion, I noticed that all the walls, includ- 
ing the toilet’s, displayed signs saying more or less the same thing: 
“Resign yourself. You cannot get in touch with us. You are 
dead.” Alarming notices that cropped up in every room, in the 
dining room, in the corridors, in the tiny parlors. 

It was during one of Santiago’s harsh winters. From colonial 
Spain my country had inherited a vulnerability to the rigors of 
nature as well as a disregard for them. (Fifty years after the 
events I am recounting now, Ilya Ehrenburg, who had just come 
from the snowy streets of Moscow, told me he had never felt so 
cold as he had in Chile.) Winter had turned the glass windows 
blue. The trees on my street shivered with cold. The horses pull- 
ing the old carriages blew clouds of steam through their nostrils. 
It was the worst possible time to be in that house, among sinister 
intimations of the beyond. 

3 * 


Coiffeur pour dames and occultist, the landlord stared straight 
through me with the eyes of a madman, and calmly explained: 
“My wife Charito died four months ago. This is a trying moment 
for the dead. They go on visiting the old places where they lived. 
We can’t see them, but they don’t know that we can’t see them. 
We have to let them know this so they won’t suffer, thinking 
we’re indifferent. That’s why I’ve put up those signs for Charito, 
they will make it easier for her to understand that she is dead 

But the gray-headed man must have thought that I was much 
too clever. He started to watch my comings and goings, to make 
rules about female visitors, to pry into my books and my letters. I 
would enter my room without warning, to find the occultist 
going over my scanty furniture, investigating my poor be- 

I had to look for new lodgings to shelter my threatened inde- 
pendence, so I made the rounds of the unfriendly streets in the 
dead of winter. I found a place a short distance away, in a laundry. 
It was obvious to me that here the landlady had nothing to do with 
the world beyond. Run-down gardens straggled through chilly 
patios with fountains whose stagnant water the algae covered 
with solid green rugs. There was a back room with a very high 
ceiling, and transoms over tall doors; in my eyes, this increased 
the distance between the floor and the ceiling. I stayed in that 
house, in that room. 

We student poets led a wild life. I kept up my country ways, 
working in my room, writing several poems every day, and for- 
ever drinking cups of tea I prepared for myself. But, away from 
my room and my street, the turbulent life of writers in those days 
had its special fascination. They didn’t go to the cafes but to the 
beer taverns and the regular bars. Conversations and poems were 
passed around till daybreak. My studies were suffering from all 

The railroad company supplied my father with a cape of thick 
gray felt for his outdoor work, but he never wore it. I made it a 
feature of the poet. Three or four other poets also started wearing 
similar capes, and these constantly changed hands. This garment 
used to stir up the fury of good people and of others who were 
not so good. It was the heyday of the tango, which came to Chile 


Lost in the City 

not only with its heavy beat and its thrumming “tijera,” its accor- 
dions and its rhythm, but also with its entourage of toughs who 
invaded our night life and the out-of-the-way places where we 
got together. These underworld characters— dancers and trouble- 
makers— sniggered at our capes and our way of life. We poets 
fought back hard. 

Around that time I unexpectedly struck up a friendship with a 
widow who is stamped forever on my mind. She had big blue 
eyes that became misty with tenderness whenever she remem- 
bered her late beloved husband. He had been a young novelist, 
noted for his handsome physique. Together they had made a 
striking couple, she with her wheat-colored hair, her irreproach- 
able figure, and her deep-blue eyes, and he very tall and athletic. 
The novelist had been destroyed by what used to be called gallop- 
ing consumption. Later I’ve felt sure that his blond consort also 
contributed her share as galloping Venus, and that together the 
pre-penicillin age and the spirited widow carried off the monu- 
mental husband in a couple of months. 

The lovely widow had not yet peeled off her dark clothing for 
me, the black and purple silks that made her look like a snow- 
white fruit covered with a rind of mourning. That skin slipped 
off one afternoon in my room, at the rear of the laundry, and I 
was able to fondle and explore all that fruit of fiery snow. The 
natural rapture was about to be consummated, when I noticed her 
eyes closing below mine, as she cried out, sighing and sobbing, 
“Oh, Roberto, Roberto!” (It seemed to be a ritual performance. 
The vestal virgin calling on the vanished god before surrendering 
to a new rite.) 

However, in spite of my youth and need, this widow seemed too 
much for me. Her invocations became more and more urgent and 
her spirited heart was slowly leading me to a premature destruc- 
tion. Love, in such doses, is not good for malnutrition. And my 
malnutrition was becoming more dramatic every day. 


I really lived many of the first years of my life, and perhaps many 
of the next ones and the ones after that, as a kind of deaf-mute. 

Dressed in ritual black since I had been a young boy, like the 



true poets of the last century, I had the vague impression that I 
didn’t look bad at all. But, instead of going after girls, since I 
knew I would stutter or turn red in front of them, I preferred to 
pass them up and go on my way, showing a total lack of interest I 
was very far from feeling. They were all a deep mystery to me. I 
would have liked to burn at the stake in that secret fire, to drown 
in the inscrutable depth of that well, but I lacked the courage to 
throw myself into the fire or the water. And since I could find no 
one to give me a push, I walked along the fascinating edge, with- 
out even a side glance, much less a smile. 

The same thing happened to me in front of grownups, insig- 
nificant persons, railroad or post-office employees with their 
“senoras esposas,” their lady wives, so referred to because the 
petite bourgeoisie is shocked, intimidated, by the word “mujer,” 
woman or wife. I listened to the conversations at my father’s table. 
But the next day, if I ran into those who had dined at my home 
the evening before, I didn’t dare greet them, I even crossed over 
to the other side of the street to avoid embarrassment. 

Shyness is a kink in the soul, a special category, a dimension 
that opens out into solitude. Moreover, it is an inherent suffering, 
as if we had two epidermises and the one underneath rebelled and 
shrank back from life. Of the things that make up a man, this 
quality, this damaging thing, is a part of the alloy that lays the 
foundation, in the long run, for the perpetuity of the self. 

My rain-haunted backwardness, my long-drawn-out retreat 
into myself, lasted longer than it should have. When I came to the 
capital, I slowly acquired new friends of both sexes. The less atten- 
tion people paid to me, the easier it was for me to make friends. I 
was not particularly curious about mankind then. I can’t get to 
know all the people in this world, I said to myself. Still and all, a 
faint curiosity was stirred up in certain circles by this new poet, 
just over sixteen, a reticent boy, a loner, whom they saw come and 
go without so much as a good morning or goodbye. Aside from the 
fact that I’d be wearing a long Spanish cape that made me look 
like a scarecrow. No one suspected that my striking attire was 
made-to-order for my poverty. 

Among the people who sought my company were two big 
snobs of the day: Pilo Yanez and his wife, Mina. They were the 
perfect embodiment of the beautiful idle life I would have loved 


Lost in the City 

to live, more remote than a dream. It was my first time in a house 
with heat, soft lighting, pleasant furniture, walls covered with 
books whose multicolored spines were like a springtime that was 
inaccessible to me. Kindly and discreet, overlooking my various 
layers of silence and withdrawal, the Yanezes often invited me to 
their home. I used to leave their house in a happy mood, and they 
noticed and invited me again. 

I saw cubist paintings for the first time in that house, a Juan 
Gris among them. They told me that Juan Gris had been a friend 
of the family in Paris. But what intrigued me most was my 
friend’s pajamas. Whenever I could, I examined them out of the 
corner of my eye with intense admiration. It was winter, and the 
pajamas were made of a heavy material, like the baize on billiard 
tables, but a deep-sea blue. In those days I couldn’t imagine any 
kind of pajamas except striped ones, like prison uniforms. Pilo 
Yanez’s were like nothing I had ever seen. Their heavy fabric, 
their resplendent blue, aroused the envy of the poor poet who 
lived in the Santiago suburbs. And in fifty years I have not come 
across any pajamas quite like those. 

I lost sight of the Yanezes for many years. She gave up her 
husband, and she also gave up the soft lighting and excellent arm- 
chairs, for an acrobat in a Russian circus that passed through 
Santiago. Later on, she sold tickets, all the way from Australia to 
the British Isles, to help out the acrobat who had swept her off 
her feet. She ended up as a Rosicrucian or something like that, 
with a group of mystics in the South of France. 

As for Pilo Yanez, the husband, he changed his name to Juan 
Emar and in time became a powerful, though still undiscovered 
writer. We were lifelong friends. Silent and kindly but poor, 
that’s how he died. His many books have yet to be published, but 
they are sure to take root and blossom someday. 

I’ll leave Pilo Yanez, or Juan Emar, and take up my shyness 
again, recalling that during my student days my friend Pilo was 
set on introducing me to his father. “I’m sure he’ll get you a trip 
to Europe,” he told me. At that moment, all Latin American poets 
and painters had their eyes riveted on Paris. Pilo’s father was a 
very important man, a senator. He lived in one of those enormous 
ugly houses on a street near the Plaza de Armas and the presiden- 
tial palace— where no doubt he would have preferred to live. 

My friends stayed in the anteroom, after stripping off my cape 
to make me look more normal. They opened the door to the 
senator’s study for me and shut it behind me. It was an immense 
room, and may have been a great reception hall at one time, but it 
was just about empty now, except deep inside, at the far end, 
where I could make out an armchair, with the senator in it under 
a floor lamp. The pages of the newspaper he was reading hid him 
completely, like a screen. 

Taking my first step on the murderously waxed and buffed 
parquet, I slid like a skier. I picked up speed dizzily. I tried to 
brake myself, only to lose my footing and fall several times. My 
last spill was right at the feet of the senator, who was observing 
me now with cold eyes, without letting go of his paper. 

I managed to sit down in a small chair next to him. The great 
man inspected me with the eye of a bored entomologist to whom 
someone brings a specimen that he already knows inside out, a 
harmless spider. He questioned me vaguely about my projects. 
After my spill, I was even more timid and less eloquent than 

I don’t know what I told him. At the end of twenty minutes he 
put out a tiny hand toward me, as a sign of dismissal. I thought I 
heard him promise in a very soft voice that I would hear from 
him. Then he picked up his newspaper again and I started back 
across the dangerous parquet, taking all the precautions I should 
have taken when first stepping onto it. Of course the senator, my 
friend’s father, never let me hear from him. On the other hand, 
sometime later a military revolt, which was actually stupid and 
reactionary, got him to jump out of his chair with his everlasting 
paper. I confess that this made me happy. 


In Temuco I had been a correspondent for the review Claridad, 
the Student Federation’s organ, and I used to sell twenty or thirty 
copies to my schoolmates. One piece of news that reached 
Temuco in 1920 left bloody scars on my generation. The “golden 
youth,” offspring of the oligarchy, had attacked and destroyed 
the Student Federation’s headquarters. The authorities, who from 
colonial times to the present have been at the service of the rich, 


Lost in the City 

did not jail the assaulters but the assaulted. Domingo Gomez 
Rojas, the young hope of Chilean poetry, was tortured, and went 
mad and died in a dungeon. Within the national context of a small 
country, the repercussions of this crime were as profound and far- 
reaching as those of Federico Garcia Lorca’s assassination in 
Granada later. 

When I arrived in Santiago, in March 192 1, to enter the univer- 
sity, the capital of Chile had only five hundred thousand inhabi- 
tants. It smelled of gas fumes and coffee. Thousands of buildings 
housed strangers and bedbugs. Public transportation was handled 
by small rickety streetcars that struggled along with a loud clank- 
ing of iron and bells. The ride from Independencia Avenue to the 
other end of town, near the Central Station, where my college 
was located, took forever. 

The Student Federation’s headquarters was frequented by the 
most famous figures of the student rebellion, ideologically linked 
to the powerful anarchist movement of the day. Alfredo Demaria, 
Daniel Schweitzer, Santiago Labarca, Juan Gandulfo were the 
best-known leaders. The most formidable was undoubtedly Juan 
Gandulfo, who was feared for his bold political thinking and his 
unflagging courage. He treated me as if I was just a boy, which, 
of course, I was. On one occasion, when I arrived at his office late 
for a medical appointment, he frowned at me and said, “Why 
didn’t you get here on time? There are other patients waiting.” “I 
didn’t know what time it was,” I replied. “Take this, so you’ll 
know next time,” he said, pulling his watch from his vest pocket 
and giving it to me. 

Juan Gandulfo was short, moonfaced, and prematurely bald, 
yet he always made his presence felt. Once a troublemaking army 
man, who was well known as a bully and a good swordsman, 
challenged him to a duel. Gandulfo took him up on it, learned 
fencing in two weeks, and left his rival battered and scared wit- 
less. Around that same time, he engraved in wood the cover and all 
the illustrations for my first book, Crepusculario — impressive 
woodcuts done by a man no one ever associated with art. 

The most important figure in the revolutionist literary world 
was Roberto Meza Fuentes, editor of the magazine Juventud, 
owned also by the Student Federation, but with more contribu- 
tors, and more carefully prepared than Claridad. Outstanding in it 



was the work of Gonzalez Vera and Manuel Rojas, who were, 
for me, from a much older generation. Manuel Rojas had recently 
come back from Argentina after many years there, and he aston- 
ished us with his impressive size and his words, dropped with a 
kind of condescension, pride, or dignity. He was a linotypist. I 
had known Gonzalez Vera in Temuco, where he had fled after 
the police assault on the Student Federation. He came to see me 
straight from the railroad station, which was a short distance from 
my house. His sudden appearance had to impress a sixteen-year- 
old poet. I had never seen such a pale man. His fleshless face 
seemed to be carved in bone or ivory. He wore black, a black 
frayed at the extremities of trouser legs and sleeves, which, how- 
ever, did not make him look less elegant. His words sounded 
ironical and sharp from the very first. On the rainy night that 
brought him to my house— I had not even known that he existed 
—I was moved by his presence, just as Sacha Yegulev is moved by 
the revolutionary nihilist’s coming to his home; Andreyev’s fic- 
tional character, Yegulev, was looked on by young Latin Ameri- 
can rebels as their model. 


The review Claridad, which I joined as a political and literary 
militant, was run almost singlehandedly by Alberto Rojas Gime- 
nez, who was to become one of the closest friends I would have 
among my own generation. He wore a cordovan hat and the long 
muttonchop whiskers of a grandee. Well groomed and elegant 
despite his poverty, in the midst of which he seemed to preen like 
a golden bird, he embodied all the qualities of the new dandy, an 
attitude of contempt, a quick grasp of our numerous conflicts, as 
well as a cheerful sophistication and an appetite for everything in 
life. He knew all about everything— books and girls, bottles and 
ships, itineraries and archipelagos— and he flaunted this knowl- 
edge even in his slightest gestures. He moved about in the literary 
world with the condescending air of a perpetual idler, someone in 
the habit of wasting all his talent and charm. His neckties were 
always magnificent displays of prosperity in the midst of general 
poverty. He was constantly moving into a new home or to a new 
city, and thus for a few weeks his natural good humor, his persis- 


Lost in the City 

tent and spontaneous Bohemian ways, delighted incredulous 
people in Rancagua, Curico, Valdivia, Concepcion, Valparaiso. 
He always went away as he had come, leaving poems, drawings, 
neckties, loves, and friendships wherever he had been. Since he 
was as unpredictable as a storybook prince and unbelievably gen- 
erous, he gave away everything— his hat, his shirt, his jacket, and 
even his shoes. When he had no material belongings left, he 
would jot down a phrase on a scrap of paper, a line from a poem 
or something amusing that came into his head, and he would offer 
it to you as he went, with a magnanimous look on his face, as if he 
were putting a priceless jewel in your hand. 

His poems were written in the latest fashion, according to the 
doctrines of Apollinaire and Spain’s ultraist group. He had 
founded a new school of poetry and called it “Agu,” which, he 
said, was man’s first cry, the newborn infant’s first poem. 

Rojas Gjmenez set off new fads in the way we dressed, in the 
way we smoked, in our handwriting. Mimicking me, in gentle 
fun, he helped me get rid of my melancholy tone. Neither his 
skeptical attitude nor his wild drinking sprees ever infected me, 
but I am still deeply moved when I remember his face that made 
everything light up, that made beauty fly out from every comer, 
as if he had set a hidden butterfly in motion. 

From Don Miguel de Unamuno he had learned how to make 
little paper birds. He would make one with a long neck and out- 
spread wings, which he would then blow out into the air. He called 
that giving them their “vital push.” He discovered French poets, 
dark bottles buried away in wine cellars, and wrote love letters to 
Francis Jammes heroines. 

His lovely poems went around all wrinkled in his pockets, 
without ever, to this day, getting published. 

Being generous to a fault, he attracted so much attention that 
one day, in a cafe, a stranger came up to him and said, “Sir, I have 
been listening to you talk and I have taken a great liking to you. 
May I ask you for something?” “What is it?” Rojas Gimenez 
asked, looking put out. “Let me leap over you,” the stranger said. 
“What?” the poet asked. “Are you so powerful that you can leap 
over me here, sitting at this table?” “No, sir,” the stranger said 
meekly. “I want to leap over you later, when you are resting in 
your coffin. It’s my way of paying tribute to the interesting 



people I’ve met in my life: leaping over them, if they let me, after 
they’re dead. I’m a lonely man and this is my only hobby.” And 
taking out his notebook, he said, “Here’s the list of people I’ve 
leaped over.” Wild with joy, Rojas Gimenez accepted the strange 
proposition. Several years later, during the rainiest winter anyone 
in Chile can remember, Rojas Gimenez died. As usual, he had left 
his jacket in some bar in downtown Santiago. In the middle of the 
Antarctic winter, he had walked across the city, in his shirt- 
sleeves, to his sister Rosita’s house over in the Quinta Normal 
neighborhood. Two days later, bronchial pneumonia carried off 
from this world one of the most fascinating human beings I have 
ever known. The poet flew away with his little paper birds into 
the sky, in the rain. 

But friends present at his wake that night had an unusual visi- 
tor. A torrential rain was falling on the rooftops, with lightning 
and the wind together illuminating and shaking the huge plantain 
trees on Quinta Normal, when the door opened and a man all in 
black, drenched by the rain, walked in. No one knew who he 
was. Before the curious eyes of the friends keeping vigil, the 
stranger braced himself and leaped over the coffin. And he left 
immediately, as suddenly as he had arrived, without uttering a 
word, vanishing into the night and the rain. And so Alberto Rojas 
Gimenez’s amazing life was sealed with a mysterious rite nobody 
has yet been able to puzzle out. 

I had just arrived in Spain when I received the news of his 
death. Seldom have I felt such intense grief. This was in Barce- 
lona. I immediately began writing my elegy “Alberto Rojas Gi- 
menez viene volando” (“Alberto Rojas Gimenez Comes Flying”), 
which Revista de Occidente later published. 

But I also had to say farewell to him with some kind of cere- 
mony. He had died so far away, in Chile, when days of heavy rain 
were flooding the cemetery. I could not be near his mortal re- 
mains, or be with him on his final voyage, so I had an idea for a 
ceremony. I went to my friend Isaias Cabezon, the painter, and 
together we headed for the marvelous basilica of Santa Maria del 
Mar. We bought two huge candles, each almost as tall as a man, 
and with them we entered the shadows of that strange temple. 
Santa Maria del Mar was the cathedral of seafarers. Fishermen 
and sailors built it stone by stone many centuries ago. Then it was 


Lost in the City 

embellished with thousands of votive offerings: miniature boats of 
all sizes and shapes, sailing through eternity, formed a tapestry 
over the walls and ceilings of the beautiful basilica. It occurred 
to me that this was the perfect setting for the late poet, this would 
have been his favorite spot if he had come to know it. My friend 
the painter and I lit the huge candles in the center of the basilica, 
near the clouds of the coffered ceiling, and sat in the empty church, 
each of us with a bottle of white wine, feeling that, despite our 
agnosticism, the silent ceremony brought us closer to our dead 
friend in some mysterious way. Burning in the highest part of the 
empty basilica, the candles were alive and radiant and might have 
been the two eyes of the mad poet, whose heart had been ex- 
tinguished forever, looking at us from the shadows, among the 
votive offerings. 


Apropos of Rojas Gimenez, 111 say that madness, a certain kind 
of madness, often goes hand in hand with poetry. It would be 
very difficult for predominantly rational people to be poets, and 
perhaps it is just as difficult for poets to be rational. Yet reason 
gets the upper hand, and it is reason, the mainstay of justice, that 
must govern the world. Miguel de Unamuno, who loved Chile 
very much, once said: “The thing I don’t like is that motto. What 
is it all about, through reason or force? Through reason and al- 
ways through reason.’’ 

I’ll talk about Alberto Valdivia, one of the mad poets I knew in 
the old days. Alberto Valdivia was one of the skinniest men in the 
world and so sallow-complexioned that he seemed to be made 
entirely of bone, with a wild shock of gray hair and a pair of 
glasses covering his myopic eyes, which always had a faraway 
look. We called him Valdivia the Corpse. 

He went in and out of bars and eating places, cafes and con- 
certs, without ever making a sound and with a mysterious little 
bundle of newspapers under his arm. “Dear Corpse,” his friends 
used to say, embracing his incorporeal body, with the sensation 
that we were embracing a gust of air. 

He wrote some lovely lines packed with subtle feeling, with 
intense sweetness. Here are a few: 

4 2 


Everything will go— the afternoon, the sun, life: 
evil, which cannot be undone, will prevail. 

Only you will stay, inseparable 
sister of the twilight of my life. 

This poet whom we fondly knew as Valdivia the Corpse was a 
true poet. We often said to him: “Stay and have dinner with us, 
Corpse.” Our nickname never upset him. Sometimes a smile 
played on his very thin lips. His phrases were few and far be- 
tween, but they were always to the point. We made a rite of 
taking him to the cemetery every year. On the eve of November i 
we used to give a dinner for him, as sumptuous as the miserable 
pockets of young students and writers would permit. Our 
“Corpse” occupied the seat of honor. At twelve on the dot, we 
cleared the table and headed for the cemetery in a lighthearted 
procession. Someone would make a speech honoring the “late” 
poet, in the stillness of the night. Then each of us said goodbye 
solemnly and we marched off, leaving him all alone at the grave- 
yard gate. The “Corpse” had long accepted this traditional rite, 
and there was no cruelty in it, since he took an active role in the 
farce all the way to the end. Before leaving, we would hand him 
some pesos, so he could eat a sandwich in his grave. 

Two or three days later, no one was surprised to see the poet- 
corpse quietly slip back into our small knot of friends and into the 
cafes. He could count on being left in peace until the following 
November r. 

In Buenos Aires I met a very eccentric Argentine writer whose 
name was, or is, Omar Vignole; I don’t know if he is still living. 
He was a giant of a man and carried a heavy walking stick. Once, 
in a midtown restaurant where he had invited me to dinner, he 
turned to me at the table, motioning me to a seat, and said in a 
booming voice that could be heard throughout the room, which 
was filled with regular customers: “Sit down, Omar Vignole!” I 
sat down a bit uneasily and promptly asked: “Why do you call 
me Omar Vignole? You know that you are Omar Vignole and I 
am Pablo Neruda.” “Yes,” he replied, “but there are lots of 
people in this restaurant who only know me by name. And sev- 
eral of them want to thrash the daylights out of me; I’d rather 
have them do it to you.” 


Lost in the City 

Vignole had been an agronomist in an Argentine province and 
had brought back a cow that became his inseparable friend. He 
used to walk all over Buenos Aires with his cow, leading her by a 
rope. Around that time, he published some books J all with in- 
triguing titles: What the Cow Thinks, My Cow and 1 , etc. When 
the P.E.N. club had its first world congress in Buenos Aires, the 
writers, who were headed by Victoria Ocampo, trembled at the 
thought that Vignole would turn up with his cow. They ex- 
plained this imminent threat to the authorities, and the police 
cordoned off the streets around the Plaza Hotel to prevent my 
eccentric friend from showing up with his ruminant at the luxuri- 
ous place where the congress was being held. It was all in vain. 
The festivities were in full swing and the writers were discussing 
the classical world of the Greeks and its relation to the modem 
meaning of history, when the- great Vignole burst in upon the 
conference hall with his inseparable cow, which, to top things off, 
started to moo as if she wanted to join the debate. He had 
brought her into the heart of the city in an enormous closed van 
that had somehow eluded the vigilance of the police. 

Something else I want to tell about this same Vignole is that he 
once challenged a wrestler. The pro called his bluff, and on the 
night of the match my friend showed up at a packed Luna Park 
right on time with his cow, hitched her to a comer of the ring, 
shed his super-elegant robe, and faced the Calcutta Strangler. 

Well, neither the cow nor the wrestling poet’s gorgeous ap- 
parel could help him here. The Calcutta Strangler pounced on 
Vignole and tied him into a helpless knot in double-quick time. 
What’s more, adding insult to injury, he placed one foot on the 
literary bull’s throat, amid tremendous whistles and catcalls from 
an audience that demanded that the fight continue. 

A few months later Vignole brought out a new book: Conver- 
sations with the Cow. I’ll never forget the unique dedication that 
appeared on the first page. If memory serves me, it read: “I 
dedicate this philosophical work to the forty thousand sons of 
bitches who hissed and called for my blood in Luna Park on the 
night of February 24.” 

In Paris, before the last war, I met Alvaro Guevara, the painter 
who was known in Europe as Chile Guevara. One day he called 



me on the telephone, with an urgent tone in his voice. “It’s some- 
thing very important,” he said. 

I had come up from Spain, and our struggle then was against 
Hitler, the Nixon of that era. My house in Madrid had been 
bombed and I had seen men, women, and children wiped out by 
the bombings. The world war was in the offing. Other writers 
and I had started to fight Fascism in our own way: with books 
urging people to open their eyes to this grave threat. 

My countryman had stayed out of the struggle. He was an 
uncommunicative man, a hard-working painter, and always kept 
busy. We were sitting on a keg of gunpowder. When the great 
powers blocked the delivery of arms for the defense of the 
Spanish Republic, and later, in Munich, when they threw the 
doors wide open for Hitler’s army, the war had arrived. 

I complied with Chile Guevara’s plea that I go see him. What 
he wanted to tell me was very important. 

“What’s it all about?” I asked him. 

“There’s no time to lose,” he answered. “There’s no reason for 
you to be anti-Fascist. No one has to be anti-anything. We must 
get down to brass tacks, and I have found those brass tacks. I 
want to tell you about it right away so that you’ll drop your anti- 
Nazi congresses and settle down to serious work. There’s no time 
to lose.” 

“Well, tell me what it’s all about. Alvaro, I really have very 
little time.” 

“Pablo, my idea is really expressed in a three-act play. I’ve 
brought it along to read to you.” And he stared at me hard— his 
face, with its bushy eyebrows, like an ex-boxer’s— as he pulled 
out a voluminous manuscript. 

Panicky, and stressing my lack of time as an excuse, I con- 
vinced him to give me a quick run-down of the ideas that he 
planned to use to save the human race. 

“It’s like Columbus’s egg, easier to crack than it looks,” he said. 
“I’ll explain. If you plant one potato, how many potatoes will it 

“Well, maybe four or five,” I answered, just to say something. 

“Lots more,” he answered. “Sometimes as many as forty, some- 
times more than one hundred potatoes. Imagine everybody plant- 
ing one potato in the garden, on the balcony, anywhere. How 


Lost in the City 

many people are there in Chile? Eight million. Eight million 
planted potatoes. Pablo, multiply this by four, by one hundred. 
That’s the end of hunger, the end of war. How many people are 
there in China? Five hundred million, right? Each Chinese plants 
one potato. Forty potatoes come from each potato that’s been 
planted. Five hundred million by forty potatoes. Humanity is 

When the Nazis marched into Paris, they did not take into 
account that world-saving idea: Columbus’s egg, or rather, 
Columbus’s potato. Alvaro Guevara was" arrested at his home in 
Paris on a cold, foggy night. They dragged him off to a concen- 
tration camp and held him prisoner there, marked with a tattoo 
on his arm, until the end of the war. He came out of that hell a 
human skeleton, and he never recovered. He came to Chile for 
the last time, as if to bid his country goodbye, giving it a final kiss, 
a sleepwalker’s kiss, and returned to France, where death com- 
pleted its work. 

Great painter, dear friend, Chile Guevara, I want to tell you 
one thing: I know you are dead, that your non-aligned potato 
politics did not help you at all. I know that the Nazis killed you. 
And yet— last June I went into the National Gallery. I was only 
going to look at the Turners, but I hadn’t reached the main room, 
when I discovered an impressive painting: a painting as lovely to 
me as the Turners, a resplendently beautiful work. It was the 
portrait of a lady, a famous lady: her name, Edith Sitwell. And 
this painting was your work, the only work by a Latin American 
painter ever privileged to hang among the masterpieces of the 
great London museum. 

I don’t care about the place, or the honor, and, at heart, I also 
care very little about that lovely canvas. What matters to me is 
that we did not get to know each other better, to understand each 
other more, and that we let our lives cross without undemanding, 
all because of a potato. 

I have been too simple a man: this has been my honor and my 
shame. I went along with my friends’ shenanigans and envied 
their brilliant plumage, their Satanic poses, their little paper birds, 
and even their cows, which, in some unexplained way, may have 
something to do with literature. Anyway, I believe I was bom not 



to pass judgment but to love. Even the divisionists who attack me, 
ganging up to gouge out my eyes, after having first nourished 
themselves on my poetry, deserve my silence if nothing else. I was 
never afraid I’d contaminate myself circulating among my enemies, 
because the only enemies I have are the enemies of the people. 

Apollinaire said: “Mercy on us who explore the frontiers of the 
unreal.” I quote from memory, thinking of the stories I have just 
told, stories about people who are no less dear to me because they 
were eccentric, and no less valorous because I did not know what 
to make of them. 


We poets have always believed we could come up with brilliant 
ideas that would make us rich, that we are geniuses at planning 
business deals, but geniuses no one understands. I recall that in 
1924 I was prompted by one of those money-making brainstorms 
to sell my Chilean publisher the rights to my book Crepusculario, 
not for one edition, but for eternity. I thought this sale would 
make me rich, and signed the contract before a notary. The fel- 
low paid me five hundred pesos, a little under five dollars in those 
days. Rojas Gimenez, Alvaro Hinojosa, Homero Arce, were wait- 
ing for me outside the notary public’s door, to celebrate this com- 
mercial success with a big banquet. And in fact we ate in what 
was then the best restaurant. La Bahia, with exquisite wines, 
cigars, and liqueurs. But first we had our shoes shined until they 
glittered like mirrors. The restaurant, four shoeshine boys, and a 
publisher profited from this business deal. Prosperity stopped 
short of the poet. 

Alvaro Hinojosa claimed he had an eagle’s eye for all kinds of 
business. We were impressed by those grandiose schemes of his 
that, put into practice, would make money rain down on our 
heads. For us down-at-the-heels Bohemians, his command of 
English, his Virginia-blend cigarettes, his years of study at a uni- 
versity in New York, spoke volumes for the pragmatism of his 
great business brain. 

One day he called me aside, very confidentially, to let me in on 
a fantastic plan aimed at making us rich quick. I could go in fifty- 


Lost in the City 

fifty with him simply by contributing a few pesos I would get 
somewhere. He would put up the rest. That day we felt like 
capitalists beyond God and the law, capable of anything. 

“What kind of merchandise is it?” I asked the unappreciated 
king of finance timidly. 

Alvaro closed his eyes, expelled a mouthful of smoke that broke 
up into small rings, and finally answered in a husheji voice: 

“Pelts? ” I echoed in amazement. 

“From seals. To be precise, from hair seals all the same color.” 

I couldn’t bring myself to ask for more details. I didn’t know 
that seals, or sea lions, had hair of any color. When I had watched 
them on a rock, on southern beaches, I had seen a shiny skin that 
glistened in the sun, had never noticed the slightest hint of hair on 
their lazy bellies. 

I converted everything I owned into ready cash with lightning 
speed, without paying my rent, or my tailor’s installment, or the 
shoemaker’s bill, and I placed my share of the money in my busi- 
ness associate’s hands. 

We went to look at the pelts. Alvaro had bought them from an 
aunt of his, a southerner who owned several uninhabited islands. 
On those desolate rookeries, the sea lions carried out their erotic 
ceremonies. And they were here now, before my eyes, as huge 
bundles of yellow pelts riddled by the carbines of the wicked 
aunt’s hirelings. The packs of skins were stacked all the way up to 
the ceiling in the storehouse rented by Alvaro to impress prospec- 
tive buyers. 

“And what are we going to do with this enormous mass, this 
mountain of pelts?” I asked sheepishly. 

“Everybody needs this kind of pelt. You’ll see.” And we left 
the storehouse, Alvaro shooting off sparks of energy, I with 
lowered head, wordlessly. 

Alvaro made the rounds with a portfolio made of our genuine 
pelts from “hair seals all the same color,” a portfolio filled with 
blank forms to make it look business-like. Our last money went 
for newspaper ads. Just let one interested and appreciative mag- 
nate read them, and that was it. We’d be rich. Alvaro, a very 
elegant dresser, wanted to have a half dozen suits made out of 
English cloth. Much more modest, I harbored among my unful- 

4 8 


filled dreams the dream of buying a good shaving brush, now that 
the one I had was well on its way to turning unacceptably bald. 

A buyer showed up at last. He worked in leather goods, a 
short, robust man with fearless eyes, sparing with words, and 
with an air of candor which, I thought, verged on rudeness. 
Alvaro received him with guarded indifference and set a suitable 
time, three days later, for showing him our fabulous merchandise. 

During those three davs Alvaro bought some superb English 
cigarettes and some “Romeo y Julieta” Havana cigars, which he 
stuck in his breast pocket, in plain sight, just before the client was 
expected to arrive. We had laid out the better-looking skins on 
the floor. 

The man showed up for our appointment right on time. He did 
not take off his hat and barely greeted us with a grunt. He 
glanced scornfully and quickly at the skins spread out on the 
floor. Then he ran his sharp, stern eyes over the crammed shelves. 
He raised a pudgy hand, and a suspicious fingernail pointed out a 
bundle of skins, one of those highest and farthest away. Exactly 
where I had jammed the worst ones into a corner. 

Alvaro made the most of this crucial moment to offer him one 
of his genuine Havanas. The small-time merchant grabbed it, bit 
off the end, rammed the cigar into his mouth, and went on calmly 
pointing to the bundle he wanted to inspect. 

There was nothing to do but show it to him. My partner 
climbed up the ladder and came back down with the thick 
bundle, smiling like a man sentenced to death. Pausing now and 
then to draw more and more smoke from Alvaro’s cigar, the 
buyer examined all the skins in the package, one by one. 

The man picked up a pelt, rubbed it together, bent it double, 
tossed it aside scornfully, and immediately went on to the next, 
which in turn was scratched, rubbed, sniffed, and dropped. When 
he was finally through with his inspection, he once more ran his 
vulture’s eyes over the shelves brimming with our pelts from hair 
seals all the same color, and at last halted his gaze on the forehead 
of my partner, the business expert. 

Then, in a hard, dry voice, he uttered words that, for us at 
least, became immortal: “My dear sirs, I’m not getting hitched to 
these skins.” And he walked out forever, with his hat still on, 
smoking Alvaro’s superb cigar, without saying goodbye, implac- 
able slayer of our millionaire’s dreams. 

Lost in the City 



I sought refuge in poetry with the intensity of someone timid. 
The new literary movements hovered over Santiago. I finished 
writing my first book at j 1 3 Maruri Street. I used to write two, 
three, four, five poems each day. In the late afternoon, outside my 
balcony, there unfolded a spectacle I never missed for anything in 
the world. It was the sunset with its glorious sheaves of colors, 
scattered arrays of light, enormous orange and scarlet fans. The 
middle section of my book is called “Maruri Twilights.” No one 
ever asked me what Maruri is supposed to mean. Maybe a very 
small number of people know it’s only a modest street frequented 
by the most extraordinary twilights. 

In 1923 my first book, Crepusculario, appeared. I had set- 
backs and successes every day, trying to pay for the first print- 
ing. I sold the few pieces of furniture I owned. The watch my 
father had solemnly given me, on which he had had two little 
crossed flags enameled, soon went off to the pawnbroker’s. My 
black poet’s suit followed the watch. The printer was adamant, 
and in the end, when the edition was all ready and the covers had 
been pasted on, he said to me, with an evil look, “No. You are not 
taking a single copy until you pay me for the entire thing.” The 
critic Alone generously contributed the last pesos, which were 
gobbled up by my printer, and off I went into the street carrying 
my books on my shoulder, with holes in my shoes, but beside 
myself with joy. 

My first book! / have always maintained that the writer's task 
has nothing to do with mystery or magic, and that the poet's, at 
least, must be a personal effort for the benefit of all. The closest 
thing to poetry is a loaf of bread or a ceramic dish or a piece of 
wood lovingly carved, even if by clumsy hands. And yet I don’t 
believe any craftsman except the poet, still shaken by the con- 
fusion of his dreams, ever experiences the ecstasy produced only 
once in his life, by the first object his hands have created. It’s a 
moment that will never come back. There will be many editions, 
more elaborate, more beautiful. His words will be poured into 
the glasses of other languages like a wine, to sing and spread its 
aroma to other places on this earth. But that moment when the 
first book appears with its ink fresh and its paper still crisp, that 
enchanted and ecstatic moment, with the sound of wings beating 



or the first flower opening on the conquered height, that moment 
comes only once in the poet’s lifetime. 

One of my poems seemed to break away from that immature 
book and go off on its own: “Farewell,” which many people, 
wherever I go, still know by heart. They would recite it to me in 
the most unlikely places, or ask me to do it. I might find it annoy- 
ing, but the minute I was introduced at a gathering, some girl 
would raise her voice with those obsessive lines, and sometimes 
ministers of state would receive me with a military salute while 
reciting the first stanza. 

Years later in Spain, Federico Garcia Lorca told me how the 
same thing kept happening to him with his poem “La casada in- 
fiel” (“The Faithless Wife”). The greatest proof of friendship 
Federico could offer anyone was to repeat for him his enormously 
popular and lovely poem. We become allergic to the unshakable 
success of just one of our poems. This is a healthy and natural 
feeling. Such an imposition by readers tends to transfix the poet in 
a single moment of time, whereas creation is really a steady wheel 
spinning along with more and more facility and self-confidence, 
though perhaps with less freshness and spontaneity. 

I was now leaving Crepusculario behind me. Deep anxieties 
stirred my poetry. Short trips to the south renewed my powers. 
In 1923 I had a strange experience. I had returned home to 
Temuco. It was past midnight. Before going to bed, I opened the 
windows in my room. The sky dazzled me. The entire sky was 
alive, swarming with a lively multitude of stars. The night looked 
freshly washed and the Antarctic stars were spreading out in for- 
mation over my head. 

I became star-drunk, celestially, cosmically drunk. I rushed to 
my table and wrote, with heart beating high, as if I were taking 
dictation, the first poem of a book that would have many titles 
and would end up as El hondero entusiasta. It was smooth going, 
as if I were swimming in my very own waters. 

The following day, filled with happiness, I read my poem. 
Later, when I got to Santiago, the wizard Aliro Oyarzun listened 
with admiration to those lines of mine. Then he asked in his deep 
voice: “Are you sure those lines haven’t been influenced by Sabat 

“I’m pretty sure. I wrote them in a fit of inspiration.” 

Lost in the City ji 

Then I decided to send my poem to Sabat Ercasty himself, a 
great Uruguayan poet unjustly neglected today. In him I had seen 
realized my ambition to write poetry that would embrace not 
only man but nature, its hidden forces: an epic poetry that would 
deal with the great mystery of the universe and with man’s poten- 
tial as well. I started an exchange of letters with him. While I 
continued my work and mellowed it, I read with great care the 
letters Sabat Ercasty addressed to me, an unknown young poet. 

I sent Sabat Ercasty, in Montevideo, the poem I had written 
that night and I asked him if it showed any influence from his 
poetry. A kind letter from him promptly answered my question: 
“I have seldom seen such a successful, such a magnificent poem, 
but I have to tell you: Yes, there are echoes of Sabat Ercasty in 
your lines.” 

It was a flash of light in the darkness, of clarity, and I am still 
grateful for it. The letter spent a good many days in my pocket, 
wrinkling until it fell apart. Many things were at stake. I was 
particularly obsessed with the fruitless rush of feelings that night. 
I had fallen into that well of stars in vain, that storm of stars had 
struck my senses in vain. I had made an error. I must be wary of 
inspiration. Reason must guide me step by step down the narrow 
paths. I had to learn humility. I ripped up many manuscripts, I 
misplaced others. It would be ten years before these last poems 
would reappear and be published. 

Sabat Ercasty’s letter ended my recurrent ambition for an ex- 
pansive poetry. I locked the door on a rhetoric that I could never 
go on with, and deliberately toned down my style and my expres- 
sion. Looking for more unpretentious qualities, for the harmony 
of my own world, I began to write another book. Veinte poemas 
was the result. 

Those Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada make 
a painful book of pastoral poems filled with my most tormented 
adolescent passions, mingled with the devastating nature of the 
southern part of my country. It is a book I love because, in spite 
of its acute melancholy, the joyfulness of being alive is present in 
it. A river and its mouth helped me to write it: the Imperial River. 
Veinte poemas is my love affair with Santiago, with its student- 
crowded streets, the university, and the honeysuckle fragrance of 
requited love. 

The Santiago sections were written between Echaurren Street 

5 1 


and Espana Avenue, and inside the old building of the Teachers 
Institute, but the landscape is always the waters and the trees of 
the south. The docks in the “Cancion desesperada” (“Song of 
Despair”) are the old docks of Carahue and Bajo Imperial: the 
broken planks and the beams like stumps battered by the wide 
river: the wingbeat of the gulls was heard and can still be heard 
at that river’s mouth. 

In the long, slender-bodied, abandoned lifeboat left over from 
some shipwreck, I read the whole of Jean Christophe, and I wrote 
the “Cancion desesperada.” The sky overhead was the most vio- 
lent blue I have ever seen. I used to write inside the boat, hidden 
in the earth. I don’t think I have ever again been so exalted or so 
profound as during those days. Overhead, the impenetrable blue 
sky. In my hands, Jean Christophe or the nascent lines of my 
poem. Beside me, everything that existed and continued always to 
exist in my poetry: the distant sound of the sea, the cries of the 
wild birds, and love burning, without consuming itself, like an 
immortal bush. 

I am always being asked who the woman in Veinte poemas is, a 
difficult question to answer. The two women who weave in and 
out of these melancholy and passionate poems correspond, let’s 
say, to Marisol and Marisombra: Sea and Sun, Sea and Shadow. 
Marisol is love in the enchanted countryside, with stars in bold 
relief at night, and dark eyes like the wet sky of Temuco. She 
appears with all her joyfulness and her lively beauty on almost 
every page, surrounded by the waters of the port and by a half- 
moon over the mountains. Marisombra is the student in the city. 
Gray beret, very gentle eyes, the ever-present honeysuckle fra- 
grance of my foot-loose and fancy-free student days, the physical 
peace of the passionate meetings in the city's hideaways. 

Meanwhile, life was changing in Chile. 

The Chilean people’s movement was starting up, clamoring, 
looking for stronger support among students and writers. On the 
one hand, the great leader of the petite bourgeoisie, Arturo Ales- 
sandri Palma, a dynamic and demagogic man, became President of 
the Republic, but not before he had rocked the country with his 
fiery and threatening speeches. In spite of his extraordinary per- 
sonality, once in power he quickly turned into the classic ruler of 


Lost in the City 

our Americas; the dominant sector of the oligarchy, whom he had 
fought, opened its maw and swallowed him and his revolutionary 
speeches. The country continued to be torn apart by bitter strife. 

At the same time, a working-class leader, Luis Emilio Recabar- 
ren, was extraordinarily active organizing the proletariat, setting 
up union centers, establishing nine or ten workers’ newspapers 
throughout the country. An avalanche of unemployment sent the 
country’s institutions staggering. I contributed weekly articles to 
Claridad. We students supported the rights of the people and 
were beaten up by the police in the streets of Santiago. Thou- 
sands of jobless nitrate and copper workers flocked to the capital. 
The demonstrations and the subsequent repression left a tragic 
stain on the life of the country. 

From that time on, with interruptions now and then, politics 
became part of my poetry and my life. In my poems I could not 
shut the door to the street, just as I could not shut the door to 
love, life, joy, or sadness in my young poet’s heart. 


... You can say anything you want, yessir, hut it’s the words 
that sing, they soar and descend ... I bow to them ... I love 
them, l cling to them, / run them down, I bite into them, l melt 
them down ... I love words so much ... The unexpected 
ones ... The ones 1 wait for greedily or stalk until, suddenly, 
they drop . . . Vowels 1 love . . . They glitter like colored 
stones, they leap like silver fish, they are foam, thread, metal, 
dew . . . 1 run after certain words . . . They are so beautiful 
that 1 want to fit them all into my poem . . . 1 catch them in mid- 
flight, as they buzz past, / trap them, clean them, peel them, I set 
myself in front of the dish, they have a crystalline texture to me, 
vibrant, ivory, vegetable, oily, like fruit, like algae, like agates, 
like olives ... And then I stir them, l shake them, l drink them, 
1 gulp them down, l mash them, l garnish them, I let them go 
... I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of pol- 
ished wood, like coals, pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the 
waves . . . Everything exists in the word . . . An idea goes 
through a complete change because one word shifted its place, or 
because another settled down like a spoiled little thing inside a 



phrase that was not expecting her but obeys her . . . They have 
shadow, transparence, weight, feathers, hair, and everything they 
gathered from so much rolling down the river, from so much 
wandering from country to country, from being roots so long 
. . . They are very ancient and very new . . . They live in the 
bier, hidden away, and in the budding flower . . . What a great 
language l have, it’s a fine language we inherited from the fierce 
conquistadors . . . They strode over the giant cordilleras, over 
the rugged Americas, hunting for potatoes, sausages, beans, black 
tobacco, gold, corn, fried eggs, with a voracious appetite not 
found in the world since then . . . They swallowed up every- 
thing, religions, pyramids, tribes, idolatries just like the ones they 
brought along in their huge sacks . . . Wherever they went, 
they razed the land . . . But words fell like pebbles out of the 
boots of the barbarians, out of their beards, their helmets, their 
horseshoes, luminous words that were left glittering here . . . 
our language. We came up losers ... We came up winners 
. . . They carried off the gold and left us the gold . . . They 
carried everything off and left us everything . . . They left us 
the words. 


The Roads of the World 


V alparaiso is very close to Santiago. They are separated only 
by the shaggy mountains on whose peaks tall cacti, hostile but 
flowering, rise like obelisks. And yet something impossible to de- 
fine keeps Valparaiso apart from Santiago. Santiago is a captive 
city behind walls of snow. Valparaiso, on the other hand, throws 
its doors wide to the infinite sea, to its street cries, to the eyes of 

At the wildest stage of our young manhood, we would sud- 
denly— always at daybreak, always without having slept, always 
without a penny in our pockets— board a third-class coach. We 
were poets and painters, all of us about twenty years old, brim- 
ming over with a precious store of impulsive madness that was 
dying to be used, to expand, to burst out. The star of Valparaiso 
beckoned to us with its magnetic pulsebeat. 

It wasn’t until many years later that I felt this same inexplicable 
call again. It was during my years in Madrid. In a tavern, coming 
out of the theater in the small hours, or simply walking the 
streets, I would suddenly hear the voice of Toledo calling me, the 
soundless voice of its ghosts and its silence. And at that late hour, 
with friends as crazy as those of my younger days, I took off for 
the ancient, ashen, twisted citadel. To sleep in our clothes on the 
sands of the Tagus, under stone bridges. 

I don’t know why, but of all the trips to Valparaiso I can 




picture to myself, one remains fixed in my mind, permeated by an 
aroma of herbs uprooted from the intimacy of the fields. We 
were going to see a poet and a painter off, they would be travel- 
ing to France third-class. We did not have enough money be- 
tween all of us to pay for even the dingiest hotel, so we looked up 
Novoa, one of our favorite lunatics in wonderful Valparaiso. It 
wasn’t easy to get to his house. Scrambling and slipping up and 
down endless hills, we followed Novoa’s undaunted silhouette as 
he guided us along. 

He was an impressive man, with a bushy beard and a thick 
moustache. His dark coattails flapped like wings on the mysteri- 
ous slopes of the ridge we were climbing, blindly, worn out. He 
never stopped talking. He was a mad saint, personally canonized 
by us poets. And he was, naturally, a naturalist; a vegetarian’s 
vegetarian. He praised the secret ties, known only to him, be- 
tween bodily health and the natural gifts of the earth. He 
preached to us as he walked along; he threw his thundering voice 
back at us, as if we were his disciples. His huge figure advanced 
like a St. Christopher native to these dark, forsaken suburbs. 

At last we reached his house, which turned out to be a cabin 
with two rooms. Our St. Christopher’s bed occupied one of them. 
The other was mostly taken up by an enormous wicker armchair, 
lavishly crisscrossed by superfluous rosettes and with quaint little 
drawers built into its arms. A Victorian masterpiece. The huge 
armchair was assigned to me for sleeping that night. My friends 
spread the evening papers over the floor and stretched out care- 
fully on news items and editorial columns. 

Their breathing and their snores soon told me that they were 
all sound asleep. Sitting in that monumental piece of furniture, 
my weary bones found it difficult to coax sleep. I could hear a 
silence coming from the heights, the lonely peaks. Only the occa- 
sional barking of the Dog Stars in the darkness, only the faraway 
whistle of an arriving or departing ship made this night in Valpa- 
raiso real for me. 

Suddenly I felt a strange, irresistible force flooding through 
me. It was a mountain fragrance, a smell of the prairie, of vegeta- 
tion that had grown up with me during my childhood and which 
I had forgotten in the noisy hubbub of city life. I started to 
feel drowsy, cradled in the lullaby of the mother soil. Where 

The Roads of the World 


could this wild breath of the earth, this purest of aromas, be 
coming from? My fingers probed into the nooks and crannies of 
the huge wicker chair and discovered the innumerable little 
drawers, and in them I could feel dry, smooth plants, coarse, 
rounded sheaves, spear-like, soft or metallic leaves. The entire 
health-giving arsenal of our vegetarian preacher, the complete 
record of a life spent by our exuberant wandering St. Christopher 
gathering wild plants with his huge hands. Once this enigma had 
been cleared up, I fell asleep peacefully, protected by the fragrance 
of those guardian herbs. 

For several weeks I lived across from Don Zoilo Escobar’s 
house on a narrow street in Valparaiso. Our balconies almost 
touched. My neighbor would come out on his balcony early in 
the morning to do exercises like a hermit, exposing the harp of his 
ribs. Invariably dressed in a poor man’s overalls or a frayed over- 
coat, half sailor, half archangel, he had retired long ago from his 
sea voyages, from the customs house, from the ships’ crews. He 
brushed his Sunday suit every day with the meticulous thorough- 
ness of a perfectionist. It was a distinguished-looking black flannel 
suit that, over the years, I never saw him wear— an outfit he kept 
among his treasures in a decrepit old wardrobe. 

But his most precious and heart-rending treasure was a Stradi- 
varius which he watched over with devotion all his life, never 
playing it or allowing anyone else to. Don Zoilo was thinking of 
selling it in New York, where he would be given a fortune for the 
famed instrument. Sometimes he brought it out of the dilapidated 
wardrobe and let us look at it, reverently. Someday Don Zoilo 
would go north and return without a violin but loaded with 
flashy rings and with gold teeth filling the gaps the slow passing 
of the years had gradually left in his mouth. 

One morning he did not come out to his gymnasium balcony. 
We buried him in the cemetery up on the hill, in his black flannel 
suit, which covered his small hermit’s bones for the first time. The 
strings of the Stradivarius could not weep over his departure. 
Nobody knew how to play it. Moreover, the violin was not in the 
wardrobe when it was opened. Perhaps it had flown out to sea, or 
to New York, to crown Don Zoilo’s dreams. 


Valparaiso is secretive, sinuous, winding. Poverty spills over its 
hills like a waterfall. Everyone knows how much the infinite 
number of people on the hills eat and how they dress (and also 
how much they do not eat and how they do not dress) . The wash 
hanging out to dry decks each house with flags and the swarm of 
bare feet constantly multiplying betrays unquenchable love. 

Near the sea, however, on flat ground, there are balconied 
houses with closed windows, where hardly any footsteps ever 
enter. The explorer’s mansion was one of those houses. I knocked 
repeatedly with the bronze knocker to make sure 1 would be 
heard. At last, soft footfalls approached and a quizzical face suspi- 
ciously opened the portal just a crack, wanting to keep me out. It 
was the old serving woman of the house, a shadow in a square 
shawl and an apron, whose footsteps were barely a whisper. 

The explorer, who was also quite old, and the servant lived all 
alone in the spacious house with its windows closed. I had come 
there to see what his collection of idols was like. Corridors and 
walls were filled with bright-red creatures, masks with white and 
ash-colored stripes, statues representing the vanished anatomies of 
sea gods, wigs of dried-up Polynesian hair, hostile wooden shields 
covered with leopard skin, necklaces of fierce-looking teeth, the 
oars of skiffs that may have cut through the foam of favorable 
waters. Menacing knives made the walls shudder with silver 
blades that gleamed through the shadows. 

I noticed that the virile wooden gods had been emasculated. 
Their phalluses had been carefully covered with loincloths, obvi- 
ously the same cloth used by the servant for her shawl and her 

The old explorer moved among his trophies stealthily. In room 
after room, he supplied me with the explanations, half peremp- 
tory and half ironic, of someone who had lived a good deal and 
continued to live in the afterglow of his images. His white goatee 
resembled a Samoan idol’s. He showed me the muskets and huge 
pistols he had used to hunt the enemy and make antelopes and 
tigers bite the dust. He told his adventures without varying his 
hushed tone. It was as if the sunlight had come in through the 
closed windows to leave just one tiny ray, a tiny butterfly, alive, 
flitting among the idols. 

On my way out, I mentioned a trip I planned to the Islands, my 
eagerness to leave very soon for the golden sands. Then, peering 


The Roads of the World 

all around him, he put his frazzled moustache to my ear and 
shakily let slip: “Don’t let her find out, she mustn’t know about 
it, but I am getting ready for a trip, too.” 

He stood that way for an instant, one finger on his lips, listen- 
ing for the possible tread of a tiger in the jungle. And then the 
door closed on him, dark and abrupt, like night falling over 

I questioned the neighbors: “Are there any new eccentrics 
around? Is there anything worth coming back to Valparaiso 

They answered: “There’s almost nothing to speak of. But if 
you go down that street you’ll run into Don Bartolome.” 

“And how am I going to know him?” 

“There’s no way you can make a mistake. He always travels in 
a grand coach.” 

A few hours later I was buying some apples in a fruit store 
when a horse-drawn carriage halted at the door. A tall, ungainly 
character dressed in black got out of it. He, too, was going to buy 
apples. On his shoulder he carried an all-green parrot, which im- 
mediately flew over to me and perched on my head without even 
looking where it was going. 

“Are you Don Bartolome?” I asked the gentleman. 

“That’s right. My name is Bartolome.” And pulling out a long 
sword he carried under his cape, he handed it to me, while he 
filled his basket with the apples and grapes he was buying. It was 
an ancient sword, long and sharp, with a hilt worked by fancy 
silversmiths, a hilt like a blown rose. 

I didn’t know him, and I never saw him again. But I accom- 
panied him into the street with due respect, silently opened the 
carriage door for him and his basket of fruit to get in, and sol- 
emnly placed the bird and the sword in his hands. 

Small worlds of Valparaiso, unjustly neglected, left behind by 
time, like crates abandoned in the back of a warehouse, nobody 
knows when, never claimed, come from nobody knows where, 
crates that will never go anywhere. Perhaps in these secret realms, 
in these souls of Valparaiso, was stored forever the lost power of 
a wave, the storm, the salt, the sea that flickers and hums. The 
menacing sea locked inside each person: an uncommunicable 



sound, an isolated movement that turned into the flour and the 
foam of dreams. 

I was amazed that those eccentric lives I discovered were such 
an inseparable part of the heartbreaking life of the port. Above, 
on the hills, poverty flourishes in wild spurts of tar and joy. The 
derricks, the piers, the works of man cover the waist of the coast 
with a mask painted on by happiness that comes and goes. But 
others never made it to the hilltops, or down below, to the jobs. 
They put away their own infinite world, their fragment of the 
sea, each in his own box. 

And they watched over it with whatever they had, while obliv- 
ion closed in on them like a mist. 

Sometimes Valparaiso twitches like a wounded whale. It floun- 
ders in the air, is in agony, dies, and comes back to life. 

Every native of the city carries in him the memory of an earth- 
quake. He is a petal of fear clinging all his life to the city’s heart. 
Every native is a hero even before he is bom. Because in the 
memory of the port itself there is defeat, the shudder of the earth 
as it quakes and the rumble that surfaces from deep down as if a 
city under the sea, under the land, were tolling the bells in its 
buried towers to tell man that it’s all over. 

Sometimes when the walls and the roofs have come crashing 
down in dust and flames, down into the screams and the silence, 
when everything seems to have been silenced by death once and 
for all, there rises out of the sea, like the final apparition, the 
mountainous wave, the immense green arm that surges, tall and 
menacing, like a tower of vengeance, to sweep away whatever life 
remains within its reach. 

Sometimes it all begins with a vague stirring, and those who are 
sleeping wake up. Sleeping fitfully, the soul reaches down to pro- 
found roots, to their very depth under the earth. It has always 
wanted to know it. And knows it now. And then, during the 
great tremor, there is nowhere to run, because the gods have gone 
away, the vainglorious churches have been ground up into heaps 
of rubble. 

This is not the terror felt by someone running from a furious 
bull, a threatening knife, or water that swallows everything. This 
is a cosmic terror, an instant danger, the universe caving in and 

The Roads of the World <Si 

crumbling away. And, meanwhile, the earth lets out a muffled 
sound of thunder, in a voice no one knew it had. 

The dust raised by the houses as they came crashing down 
settles little by little. And we are left alone with our dead, with all 
the dead, not knowing how we happen to be still alive. 

The stairs start out from the bottom and from the top, winding 
as they climb. They taper off like strands of hair, give you a slight 
respite, and then go straight up. They become dizzy. Plunge down. 
Drag out. Turn back. They never end. 

How many stairs? How many steps to the stairs? How many 
feet on the steps? How many centuries of footsteps, of going 
down and back up with a book, tomatoes, fish, bottles, bread? 
How many thousands of hours have worn away the steps, making 
them into little drains where the rain runs down, playing and 


No other city has spilled them, shed them like petals into its 
history, down its own face, fanned them into the air and put them 
together again, as Valparaiso has. No city has had on its face these 
furrows where lives come and go, as if they were always going up 
to heaven or down into the earth. 

Stairs that have given birth, in the middle of their climb, to a 
thistle with purple flowers! Stairs the sailor, back from Asia, went 
up only to find a new smile or a terrifying absence in his house! 
Stairs down which a staggering drunk dived like a black meteor! 
Stairs the sun climbs to go make love to the hills! 

If we walk up and down all of Valparaiso’s stairs, we will have 
made a trip around the world. 

Valparaiso of my sorrows . . . ! What happened in the soli- 
tudes of the South Pacific? Wandering star or battle of glow- 
worms whose phosphorescence survived the disaster? 

Night in Valparaiso! A speck on the planet lit up, ever so tiny 
in the empty universe. Fireflies flickered and a golden horseshoe 
started burning in the mountains. 

What happened then is that the immense deserted night set up 
its formation of colossal figures that seeded light far and wide. 
Aldebaran trembled, throbbing far above, Cassiopeia hung her 



dress on heaven’s doors, while the noiseless chariot of the South- 
ern Cross rolled over the night sperm of the Milky Way. 

Then the rearing, hairy Sagittarius dropped something, a dia- 
mond from his hidden hoofs, a flea from his hide, very far above. 

Valparaiso was born, bright with lights, and humming, edged 
with foam and meretricious. 

Night in its narrow streets filled up with black water nymphs. 
Doors lurked in the darkness, hands pulled you in, the bedsheets 
in the south led the sailor astray. Polyanta, Tritetonga, Carmela, 
Flor de Dios, Multicula, Berenice, Baby Sweet packed the beer 
taverns, they cared for those who had survived the shipwreck of 
delirium, relieved one another and were replaced, they danced 
listlessly, with the melancholy of my rain-haunted people. 

The sturdiest whaling vessels left port to subdue leviathan. 
Other ships sailed for the Califomias and their gold. The last of 
them crossed the Seven Seas later to pick up from the Chilean 
desert cargoes of the nitrate that lies like the limitless dust of a 
statue crushed under the driest stretches of land in the world. 

These were the great adventures. 

Valparaiso shimmered across the night of the world. In from 
the world and out into the world, ships surged, dressed up like 
fantastic pigeons, sweet-smelling vessels, starved frigates held up 
overlong by Cape Horn ... In many instances, men who had 
just hit port threw themselves down on the grass . . . Fierce 
and fantastic days when the oceans opened into each other only at 
the far-off Patagonian strait. Times when Valparaiso paid good 
money to the crews that spit on her and loved her. 

A grand piano arrived on some ship; on another, Flora Tristan, 
Gauguin’s Peruvian grandmother, passed through; and on yet an- 
other, on the Wager, the original Robinson Crusoe came in, in 
the flesh, recently picked up at the Juan Fernandez Islands . . . 
Other ships brought pineapples, coffee, black pepper from Suma- 
tra, bananas from Guayaquil, jasmine tea from Assam, anise from 
Spain . . . The remote bay, the Centaur’s rusty horseshoe, filled 
with intermittent gusts of fragrance: in one street you were over- 
whelmed by a sweetness of cinnamon; in another, the smell of 
custard apples shot right through your being like a white arrow; 
the detritus of seaweed from all over the Chilean sea came out to 
challenge you. 

Valparaiso then would light up and turn a deep gold; it was 

The Roads of the World 63 

gradually transformed into an orange tree by the sea, it had 
leaves, it had coolness and shade, it was resplendent with fruit. 

The hills of Valparaiso decided to dislodge their inhabitants, to 
let go of the houses on top, to let them dangle from cliffs that are 
red with clay, yellow with gold thimble flowers, and a fleeting 
green with wild vegetation. But houses and people clung to the 
heights, writhing, digging in, worrying, their hearts set on staying 
up there, hanging on, tooth and nail, to each cliff. The port is a 
tug-of-war between the sea and nature, untamed on the cordilleras. 
But it was man who won the battle little by little. The hills and 
the sea’s abundance gave the city a pattern, making it uniform, 
not like a barracks, but with the variety of spring, its clashing 
colors, its resonant bustle. The houses became colors: a blend of 
amaranth and yellow, crimson and cobalt, green and purple. And 
Valparaiso carried out its mission as a true port, a great sailing 
vessel that has run aground but is still alive, a fleet of ships with 
their flags to the wind. The wind of the Pacific Ocean deserved a 
city covered with flags. 

I have lived among these fragrant, wounded hills. They are 
abundant hills, where life touches one’s heart with numberless 
shanties, with unfathomable snaking spirals and the twisting loops 
of a trumpet. Waiting for you at one of these turns are an orange- 
colored merry-go-round, a friar walking down, a barefoot girl 
with her face buried in a watermelon, an eddy of sailors and 
women, a store in a very rusty tin shack, a tiny circus with a tent 
just large enough for the animal tamer’s moustaches, a ladder 
rising to the clouds, an elevator going up with a full load of 
onions, seven donkeys carrying water up, a fire truck on the way 
back from a fire, a store window and in it a collection of bottles 
containing life or death. 

But these hills have profound names. Traveling through these 
names is a voyage that never ends, because the voyage through 
Valparaiso ends neither on earth nor in the word. Merry Hill, 
Butterfly Hill, Polanco’s Hill, Hospital, Little Table, Corner, Sea 
Lion, Hauling Tackle, Potters’, Chaparro’s, Fern, Litre, Windmill, 
Almond Grove, Pequenes, Chercanes, Acevedo’s, Straw, Prison, 
Vixens’, Dona Elvira’s, St. Stephen’s, Astorga, Emerald, Almond 
Tree, Rodriguez’s, Artillery, Milkmen’s, Immaculate Conception, 
Cemetery, Thistle, Leafy Tree, English Hospital, Palm Tree, 

6 4 


Queen Victoria’s, Caravalio’s, St. John of God, Pocuro’s, Cove, 
Goat, Biscayne, Don Elias’s, Cape, Sugar Cane, Lookout, Parrasia, 
Quince, Ox, Flower. 

I can’t go to so many places. Valparaiso needs a new sea 
monster, an eight-legged one that will manage to cover all of it. I 
make the most of its immensity, its familiar immensity, but 1 can’t 
take in all of its multicolored right flank, the green vegetation on 
its left, its cliffs or its abyss. 

I can only follow it through its bells, its undulations, and its 

Above all, through its names, because they are taproots and 
rootlets, they are air and oil, they are history and opera: red 
blood runs in their syllables. 


A literary prize at school, some popularity my new books en- 
joyed, and my notorious cape had given me a small aura of re- 
spectability beyond artistic circles. But in the twenties, cultural 
life in our countries depended exclusively on Europe, with a few 
rare and heroic exceptions. A cosmopolitan elite was active in 
each of our republics, and the writers who belonged to the ruling 
class lived in Paris. Our great poet Vicente Huidobro not only 
wrote in French but even changed his name, making it Vincent 
instead of Vicente. 

In fact, as soon as I had the first little bit of youthful fame, 
people in the street started asking me: “Well, what are you doing 
here? You must go to Paris.” 

A friend spoke to the head of a department in the Foreign 
Ministry on my behalf, and he saw me right away. He knew my 

“I also know your aspirations. Sit down in that comfortable 
armchair. From here you have a good view of the square, of the 
carnival in the square. Look at those cars. All is vanity. You are a 
fortunate young poet. Do you see that palace? It belonged to my 
family once. And here I am now, in this cubbyhole, up to my 
neck in bureaucracy. When the things of the spirit are all that 
matter. Do you like Tchaikovsky?” 

Giving me a parting handshake, after an hour-long conversa- 
tion about the arts, he told me not to worry about a thing, he was 

The Roads of the World 


the head of the consular service. “You may now consider yourself 
virtually appointed to a post abroad.” 

For two years I visited, from time to time, the office of the 
diplomatic department head, who was more obsequious each time. 
The moment he saw me appear, he would glumly call one of his 
secretaries and, arching his brows, would say, “I’m not in for 
anyone. I want to forget everyday prose. The only spiritual thing 
about this ministry is this poet’s visit. I hope he never forsakes 

I am sure he spoke with sincerity. Right after that, he would 
talk without respite about thoroughbred dogs. “Anyone who 
doesn’t love dogs doesn’t love children.” He would go on to the 
English novel, then jump to anthropology and spiritism, and end 
up with questions of heraldry and genealogy. When I took leave 
of him, he would repeat once more, as if it were a terrifying little 
secret between the two of us, that my post abroad was guaran- 
teed. Although 1 didn’t have enough money to eat, I would leave 
in the evening breathing like a diplomat. And when my friends 
asked me what I was up to, I put on important airs and said, “I’m 
working on my trip to Europe.” 

This lasted until I ran into my friend Bianchi. The Bianchi 
family of Chile is a noble clan. Painters and popular musicians, 
jurists and writers, explorers and climbers of the Andes give all 
those with the Bianchi name an aura of restlessness and sharp 
intelligence. My friend, who had been an ambassador and knew 
the ins and outs of the ministries, asked me: “Hasn’t your ap- 
pointment come through yet?” 

“I’ll get it any moment now, I’ve been assured of it by a high 
patron of the arts in the Ministry.” 

He grinned and said: “Let’s go see the Minister.” 

He took me by the arm and we went up the marble steps. 
Orderlies and employees scurried out of our way. I was dumb- 
struck. I was about to see my first Foreign Minister. He was quite 
short, and to disguise this, he swung himself up and sat on his 
desk. My friend mentioned how much I wanted to leave Chile. 
The Minister pressed one of his many buzzers, and to top off my 
confusion, my spiritual protector suddenly appeared. 

“What posts are available in the service?” the Minister asked 

The elegant functionary, who could not bring up Tchaikovsky 



now, listed various countries scattered over the world, but I man- 
aged to catch only one name, which I had never heard or read 
before: Rangoon. 

“Where do you want to go, Pablo?” the Minister said to me. 

“To Rangoon,” I answered without hesitating. 

“Give him the appointment,” the Minister ordered my pro- 
tector, who hustled out and came back in nothing flat with the 
official order. 

There was a globe in the Minister’s office. My friend Bianchi 
and I looked for the unknown city of Rangoon. The old map had 
a deep dent in a region of Asia and it was in this depression that 
we discovered it. “Rangoon. Here’s Rangoon.” 

But when I met my poet friends some hours later and they 
decided to celebrate my appointment, I had completely forgotten 
the city’s name. Bubbling over with joy, I could only explain that 
I had been named consul to the fabulous Orient and that the place 
I was being sent to was in a little hole in the map. 


One day in June 1927 we set out for faraway regions. In Buenos 
Aires we turned in my first-class for two third-class fares and 
sailed on the Baden. This German ship supposedly had just one 
class, but that must have been fifth class. There were two sittings 
for meals: one to serve the Portuguese and Spanish immigrants as 
fast as possible, and another for the remaining sundry passengers, 
particularly the Germans, who were returning from the mines 
and factories of Latin America. Alvaro, my companion, immedi- 
ately classified the female passengers. He was a very active lady- 
killer. He divided women into two groups: those who prey on 
man and those who obey the whip. These distinctions did not al- 
ways apply. He had a whole bag of tricks for winning the affec- 
tion of the ladies. Whenever a pair of these interesting passengers 
appeared on deck, he would quickly grab one of my hands and 
pretend to read my palm, with mysterious looks and gestures. The 
second time around, the strollers would stop and beg him to read 
their future. He would take their hands at once, stroking them far 
too much, and the future he read always indicated a visit to our 

The Roads of the World 67 

But the voyage soon took a different turn for me and I stopped 
seeing the passengers, who grumbled noisily about the eternal fare 
of Kartoffeln; I stopped seeing the world and the monotonous 
Atlantic to feast my eyes only on the enormous dark eyes of a 
Brazilian, an ever so Brazilian girl, who boarded the ship in Rio de 
Janeiro with her parents and two brothers. 

The carefree Lisbon of those years, with fishermen in the 
streets and without Salazar on the throne, filled me with wonder. 
The food at our small hotel was delicious. Huge trays of fruit 
crowned the table. Houses of various colors; old palaces with 
arched doorways; cathedrals like monstrous vaults, which God 
would have abandoned centuries ago to go live elsewhere; gam- 
bling casinos in former palaces; the crowds on the avenues with 
their child-like curiosity; the Duchess of Braganza, out of her 
mind, walking solemnly down a cobbled street, trailed by a hun- 
dred awe-struck street urchins— this was my entry into Europe. 

And then Madrid with its crowded cafes; hail-fellow Primo de 
Rivera teaching the first lesson in tyranny to a country that 
would later learn all the rest. The first poems of my Residencia 
en la tierra , which the Spaniards were slow to understand and 
would only understand later, when the generation of Alberti, 
Lorca, Aleixandre, and Diego appeared. And for me Spain was 
also the interminable train and the sorriest third-class coach in the 
world, taking us to Paris. 

We disappeared into Montparnasse’s swarming crowds, among 
Argentinians, Brazilians, Chileans. Venezuelans, still buried away 
under Gomez’s reign, did not yet dream of coming. And, over 
there, the first Hindus in their full-length robes. And my neigh- 
bor at the next table, with her tiny snake coiled around her neck, 
drinking a cafe creme with melancholy languor. Our South 
American colony drank cognac and danced the tango, waiting for 
the slightest chance to start a battle royal and take on half the 

Paris, France, Europe, for us small-town Bohemians from 
South America, consisted of a stretch of two hundred meters and 
a couple of street comers: Montparnasse, La Rotonde, Le Dome, 
La Coupole, and three or four other cafes. Bottes with black 



singers and musicians were just beginning to become popular. 
The Argentinians were the most numerous of the South Ameri- 
cans, the first to pick a fight, and the richest. Hell could break 
loose at any time and an Argentine would be lifted up by four 
waiters, and would pass, in the air, over the tables, to be sum- 
marily deposited right out in the street. Our cousins from Buenos 
Aires did not care at all for this rough handling that wrinkled 
their trousers and, worse still, mussed up their hair. In those days, 
pomade was an essential part of Argentine culture. 

Actually, in those first days in Paris, whose hours flitted past, I 
did not meet a single Frenchman, a single European, a single 
Asian, much less anyone from Africa or Oceania. Spanish-speak- 
ing Americans, from the Mexicans down to the Patagonians, went 
about in cliques, picking on one another, disparaging one another, 
but unable to live without one another. A Guatemalan prefers the 
company of a Paraguayan bum, with whom he can idle the time 
away exquisitely, to that of a Pasteur. 

Around this time I met Cesar Vallejo, the great cholo; a poet 
whose poetry had a rough surface, as rugged to the touch as a wild 
animal’s skin, but it was magnificent poetry with extraordinary 

Incidentally, we had a little run-in right after we met. It was in 
La Rotonde. We were introduced, and in his precise Peruvian 
accent, he greeted me with: “You are the greatest of all our poets. 
Only Ruben Dario can compare with you.” 

“Vallejo,” I said, “if you want us to be friends, don’t ever say 
anything like that to me again. I don’t know where we’d end up if 
we started treating each other like writers.” 

My words appeared to unsettle him. My anti-literary education 
prompted me to be bad-mannered. On the other hand, he be- 
longed to a race that was older than mine, with viceroyalty and 
courtesy behind it. When I saw that he was offended, I felt like an 
unwelcome boor. 

But this blew over like a small cloud. We became true friends 
from that moment on. Years later, when I spent more time in 
Paris, we saw each other daily. Then I got to know him really 

Vallejo was shorter than I, thinner, more heavy-boned. He was 
also more Indian than I, with very dark eyes and a very tall, 


The Roads of the World 

domed forehead. He had a handsome Inca face, saddened by an 
air of unmistakable majesty. Vain like all poets, he loved it when 
people talked to him this way about his Indian features. He would 
hold his head high to let me admire it and say, “I’ve got some- 
thing, haven’t I?” And then laugh at himself quietly. 

His self-regard was nothing like that sometimes expressed by 
Vicente Huidobro, a poet who was Vallejo’s opposite in so many 
ways. Huidobro would let a lock of hair hang over his forehead, 
insert his fingers in his vest, push out his chest, and ask: “Have 
you noticed how much I look like Napoleon Bonaparte?” 

Vallejo was moody but only on the outside, like a man who 
had been huddling in the shadows a long time. He had a solemn 
nature and his face resembled a rigid, quasi-hieratic mask. But his 
inner self was something else again. I often saw him (especially 
when we managed to pry him away from his domineering wife, a 
tyrannical, proud Frenchwoman who was a concierge’s daugh- 
ter), yes, I saw him jumping up and down happily, like a school- 
boy. Later he would slip back into his moroseness and his 

The Maecenas we had been waiting for but who never showed 
up rose suddenly out of the Paris shadows. He was a Chilean 
writer, a friend of Rafael Alberti’s, of the French, in fact almost 
everybody’s friend. Also, and far more important, he was the son 
of Chile’s biggest shipping magnate. And well known as a big 

This messiah who had just fallen out of the sky wanted to fete 
me, so he took all of us to a White Russian boite called the Cauca- 
sian Wine Cellar. Its walls were decorated with Caucasian cos- 
tumes and landscapes. We were soon surrounded by Russian or 
phony Russian girls dressed as peasants from the mountains. 

Condon, for that was our host’s name, looked like the last of 
the Russian decadents. A frail-looking blond, he ordered bottle 
after bottle of champagne and did mad leaps in the air, imitating 
Cossack dances he had never seen. 

“Champagne, more champagne!” And, all of a sudden, our pale 
millionaire host collapsed on the ground. He lay there under the 
table fast asleep, like the bloodless corpse of a Caucasian done in 
by a bear. 

7 ° 


A shiver ran through us. The man would not come to even 
with ice compresses or bottles of ammonia uncorked under his 
nose. Seeing our helplessness and confusion, all the dancing girls 
deserted us, except one. In our host’s pockets we found an im- 
pressive checkbook that, in his corpse-like condition, he could not 

The head Cossack demanded immediate payment and closed 
the exit door to stop us from getting out. We escaped from his 
custody only by leaving my brand-new diplomatic passport as 

We departed with our lifeless millionaire on our shoulders. It 
took a herculean effort to carry him to a taxi, settle him in it, and 
then unload him at his de luxe hotel. We left him in the arms of 
two huge doormen in red livery, who carried him off like an 
admiral fallen on the bridge of his ship. 

The one girl from the boite who had not deserted us in our 
misfortune was waiting for us in the cab. Alvaro and I invited her 
to Les Halles to enjoy the early -morning onion soup. We bought 
her flowers in the market, thanked her with a kiss for being a good 
Samaritan, and noticed that she was rather attractive. She was 
neither pretty nor homely, but her turned-up nose, so typical of 
Paris girls, made up for that. Then we invited her to our seedy 
hotel. She had no objection to coming with us. 

She went with Alvaro to his room. I dropped into bed ex- 
hausted, but all at once I felt someone shaking me roughly. It was 
Alvaro. His harmless maniac’s face seemed a little odd. “Listen,” 
he said. “This woman is something special, fantastic, I can’t ex- 
plain to you. You’ve got to try her right away.” 

A few minutes later the stranger got into my bed, sleepily but 
obligingly. Making love to her, I received proof of her mysterious 
gift. It was something I can’t pin down with words, something 
that rushed up from deep within her, something that went back 
to the very origins of pleasure, to the first upsurge of a wave, to 
the erotic secrets of Venus. Alvaro was right. 

At breakfast the next morning, Alvaro warned me, on the side, 
in Spanish: “If we don’t leave this woman right away, our trip 
will be doomed. We will be sunk, not at sea but in the unfathom- 
able sacrament of sex.” 

We decided to shower her with little gifts: flowers, chocolates, 

The Roads of the World 


and half the francs we had left. She confessed that she didn’t 
work in the Caucasian nightclub; she had gone there the night 
before for the first and only time. Then we got into a taxi with 
her. The driver was passing through an unfamiliar neighbor- 
hood when we told him to stop. We said goodbye to her with big 
kisses and left her there, confused but smiling. 

We never saw her again. 


Nor will I ever forget the train that took us to Marseilles, loaded, 
like a basket of exotic fruit, with a motley crowd of people, coun- 
try girls, and sailors, with accordions and songs chorused by 
everyone in the coach. We were heading for the Mediterranean 
Sea, toward the doors of light . . . This was 1927. I was fas- 
cinated by Marseilles, with its commercial romanticism and the 
Vieux-Port winged with sails seething in their own ominous tur- 
bulence. But the Messageries Maritimes ship on which we sailed 
for Singapore was a piece of France at sea, with its petite bour- 
geoisie emigrating to occupy posts in the remote colonies. 
During the trip, when the crew noticed our typewriters and 
our writers’ manuscripts and papers, they asked us to pound out 
their letters on our machines. We took down the most incred- 
ible letters, dictated by the crew for their girls in Marseilles, in 
Bordeaux, in the provinces. Deep down, they were more inter- 
ested in their letters being typewritten than in the message. Still, 
the things they said in them sounded like poems by Tristan Cor- 
biere, artless, tender messages, all of them. The Mediterranean 
with its ports, its carpets, its traders, its markets, slowly opened 
before our prow. In the Red Sea I was impressed by the port of 
Djibouti. The calcined sand, tracked so often by Arthur Rim- 
baud’s comings and goings; Negresses like statues with then- 
baskets of fruit, the miserable huts of the native population; and 
the ramshackle look of cafes lit by spectral overhead lights . . . 
They served iced tea with lemon there. 

The thing to do was to see what went on at night in Shanghai. 
Cities with a bad reputation draw you like deadly women. Shang- 
hai opened its night mouth for us, two country boys set adrift in 

the world, third-class passengers with little money and a joyless 

We went to the big nightclubs, one after the other. It was a 
weekday night and they were empty. It was depressing to look 
at those enormous dance floors, big enough for hundreds of 
elephants to dance on, and nobody dancing there. Women from 
the Tsar’s Russia, thin as skeletons, came out of dark corners, 
yawning and asking us to invite them to drink champagne. So we 
did the rounds of six or seven dens of sin and lost souls, where all 
we were losing was our time. 

It was late to be getting back to the ship we had left a long 
ways behind, beyond the crisscrossing, narrow streets of the 
waterfront. We each took a rickshaw. We weren’t used to this 
kind of transportation provided by human horses. In 1927, those 
Chinese trotted for long distances, pulling the little cart without 
ever stopping to rest. 

Since it had started raining and the rain was coming down 
harder now, our rickshawmen thoughtfully halted their carriages 
and carefully covered the fronts of the rickshaws with rainproof 
cloth so that not one drop should spatter our foreign noses. 
“They’re such a refined and considerate people. Two thousand 
years of culture have not gone for nothing,” Alvaro and I thought, 
in our mobile seats. 

And yet something began to make me feel uneasy. I couldn’t 
see a thing, shut in under the hood considerately put up for our 
protection, but through the oilskin 1 could hear my driver’s voice 
sending out a kind of buzz. The sound of his bare feet was soon 
joined by the rhythmic sounds of other bare feet trotting along- 
side on the wet pavement. The sounds finally became muffled, it 
was a sign that the pavement had ended. Apparently, we were now 
traveling over open ground, outside the city. 

All at once my rickshaw halted. The driver skillfully undid the 
cloth that protected me from the rain. There wasn’t the shadow 
of a ship in those deserted outskirts. The other rickshaw was 
standing beside mine, and Alvaro climbed down from his seat, 
obviously alarmed. 

“Money! Money!” seven or eight Chinese who circled us kept 
repeating steadily. 

My friend moved as if to reach for a weapon in his trousers 

The Roads of the World 


pocket, and it was enough to earn each of us a rabbit punch. I fell 
back, but the Chinese caught my head in mid-air, keeping me 
from crashing down, and gently laid me out on the wet ground. 
With lightning speed they went through my pockets, shirt, hat, 
shoes and socks, and my necktie, like sleight-of-hand artists putting 
on an extravagant display of skill. Not one inch of clothing re- 
mained unaccounted for, not a penny of the little money we had. 
But one thing: with the traditional consideration of Shanghai 
thieves, they scrupulously respected our papers and our passports. 

Once we were alone, we walked toward the lights we could 
make out far off. Before long, we ran into hundreds of Chinese 
who were out at this hour and yet were honest. None of them 
knew French, or English, or Spanish, but all wanted to help us in 
our predicament, and somehow we were guided to the yearned- 
for paradise of our third-class cabin. 

We got to Japan. The money we were expecting from Chile was 
supposed to be at the consulate. In the interim, we had to put up 
at a seaman’s shelter in Yokohama. We slept on dreadful straw 
mattresses. A glass pane had been knocked out, it was snowing, 
and the cold went right through our bones. No one noticed us. 
One morning, at daybreak, an oil tanker split in two off the Japa- 
nese coast and the refuge was filled with stranded seamen. Among 
them was a Basque who could only speak Spanish and his own 
language. He told us his adventure: for four days and nights he 
had stayed afloat on a piece of the wreck, surrounded by waves of 
burning oil. The survivors were supplied with blankets and 
rations, and the Basque, a big-hearted fellow, became our bene- 

The Consul General of Chile, on the other hand— I think his 
name was De la Marina or De la Rivera— received us in a high- 
handed manner, letting us know our place as lowly castaways. He 
had no time to spare. He was dining with Countess Yufu San that 
evening. The Imperial Court had invited him to tea. Or else he 
was immersed in profound studies of the reigning dynasty. “The 
Emperor is such a refined man”— and so on. 

No. He didn’t have a telephone. Why have a telephone in 
Yokohama? They would only call him up in Japanese. As for 
news about our money, the manager of the bank, a close friend of 



his, hadn’t mentioned it. He was very sorry but he must leave. He 
was expected at a gala reception. See you tomorrow. 

The same story, day after day. We would leave the consulate 
shivering, since the robbery had reduced our wardrobe and all we 
had were some bedraggled sweaters given to us castaways. On the 
last day, we found out that our funds had arrived in Yokohama 
ahead of us. The bank had sent the consul three notices, and the 
pompous mannequin, the high-and-mighty functionary, had over- 
looked this minor point, so far beneath his station. (Whenever I 
read in the papers about consuls murdered by their crazed coun- 
trymen, 1 think longingly of that distinguished, bemedaled 

That night we went to the best cafe in Tokyo, the Koraku, 
on the Ginza. There was excellent food in Tokyo in those days; 
besides, our week of hunger gave the delicacies an added flavor. 
In the pleasant company of lovely Japanese girls, we drank 
toasts to all the unfortunate travelers neglected by perverse con- 
suls all over the world. 

, Singapore. We thought we were next door to Rangoon. What 
a bitter letdown! What had only been a few millimeters on the 
map had become a gaping abyss. Ahead of us we had several days 
on board a ship, and what’s more, the one making the regular run 
had left for Rangoon the previous day. We had no money to 
pay the hotel or our fares. More funds were waiting for us in 

Ah, but my colleague, the Chilean consul in Singapore, was 
there for a purpose. Sefior Mansilla hurried in. His smile dwindled 
little by little until it disappeared completely, giving way to a wry 
grimace. “I can’t do a thing for you. Get in touch with the 

I suggested that we consuls must stick together, but it was no 
use. The man had the face of a heartless jailer. He grabbed his hat 
and was already making a dash for the door when a Machiavellian 
thought struck me: “Senor Mansilla, I’ll be forced to give some 
lectures on our country, with paid attendance, to put together 
enough money for our fares. Please get me a hall, an interpreter, 
and the necessary permit.” 

The man went white. “Lectures on Chile, in Singapore? I 


The Roads of the World 

won’t allow it. I am in charge and I am the only one who can give 
lectures on Chile here.” 

“Calm down, Senor Mansilla,” I said. “The more people like us 
there are talking about our remote country, the better. I don’t see 
why you are so upset.” 

In the end, this crazy proposition that boiled down to patriotic 
blackmail led to a compromise. Shaking with anger, he made us 
sign receipts and handed us the money. When we counted it, we 
remarked that the receipts were made out for a larger amount. 

“That’s the interest,” he explained. 

(Ten days later I sent him a check from Rangoon, but without 
the interest, of course.) 

From the deck, as the ship drew into Rangoon, I saw looming 
ahead the gold funnel of the great pagoda, Shwe Dagon. A multi- 
tude of strange costumes clashed their vibrant colors on the pier. 
A broad dirty river’s mouth emptied there, into the Gulf of 
Martaban. This river has the most beautiful name of all the rivers 
in the world: Irrawaddy. 

Beside its waters, my new life was about to begin. 


... A hell of a guy, Alvaro . . . His name is now Alvaro de 
Silva . . . He lives in New York . . . He has spent most of his 
life in the New York jungle ... I imagine him eating oranges at 
outlandish hours, burning cigarette paper with a match, asking a 
lot of people annoying questions . . . He was always an undisci- 
plined teacher, had a brilliant intelligence, an inquisitive intelli- 
gence that seemed to lead nowhere but to New York. It was 
ip2y . . . Between the violets that almost slipped from his 
hands as he rushed them to some passing stranger he wanted to go 
to bed with right away, without even finding out her name or 
where she came from, between this and his interminable lectures 
on Joyce, he revealed to me, and to many others, unsuspected 
opinions, viewpoints of the man of the world who lives in the 
city, in his lair, and goes out to investigate the latest in music, 
painting, books, the dance . . . Forever eating oranges, paring 
apples, impossible in his eating habits, amusingly up on everything, 



m him we finally saw the urbane model of our dreams, what all of 
us provincials wanted to be, no labels pasted on suitcases, but car- 
ried within, an assortment of countries and concerts, cafes in the 
small hours, universities with snow-covered roofs . . . He reached 
a point where he made life impossible for me . . . Wherever 1 go, 1 
settle into a vegetable dream, I set my mind on one spot and try to 
put down roots, so as to think, to go on existing . . . Alvaro was 
always jumping from one wild enthusiasm to another, fascinated 
by any film we could work in, immediately dressing up as Mos- 
lems to go to the studio . . . There are pictures around some- 
where of me in a Bengalese costume (/ went into a cigarette shop 
in Calcutta and did not speak, and they took me for a member of 
Tagore's family) when we used to go to the Dum-Dum studios to 
see if they would hire us .. . And then we'd have to leave the 
Y.M.C.A. on the sly because we hadn't paid our bill . . . And 
the nurses who loved us .. . Alvaro got tangled up in fabulous 
business ventures . . . He wanted us to sell tea from Assam, 
cloth from Kashmir, clocks, ancient treasures . . . Everything 
fizzled out quickly ... He left samples from Kashmir, his little 
tea bags, on the tables, on the beds ... He had already grabbed 
another suitcase and was somewhere else ... In Munich . . . 
In New York . . . 

I have seen many writers, steady, inexhaustible, and prolific, but 
he is the greatest . . . He almost never publishes anything ... I 
don't understand ... In the morning, without getting out of 
bed, with glasses mounted on the little hump of his nose, he's 
already at it, banging away at the typewriter, consuming reams of 
every kind of paper, of all the paper he can get his hands on .. . 
And yet his mobility, his criticism, his oranges, his periodic com- 
munications, his lair in New York, his violets, his muddle that 
appears to be so clear, his lucidity that is so muddled up .. . He 
never turns out the work everyone's always expected of him . . . 
Maybe it’s because he doesn't feel like it . . . Maybe it's be- 
cause he can't do it .. . Because he's doing too many things at 
once ... Or because he's not doing anything . . . But he 
knows everything, he sees everything across continents with those 
impulsive blue eyes, with that fine sensibility, nevertheless letting 
the sands of time sift through his fingers . . . 




Luminous Solitude 


I mmersed in these memories, I suddenly have to wake up. It’s 
the sound of the sea. I am writing in Isla Negra, on the coast, 
near Valparaiso. The powerful winds that whipped the shore have 
just blown themselves out. The ocean— rather than my watching it 
from my window, it watches me with a thousand eyes of foam- 
still shows signs, in its surf, of the terrible persistence of the storm. 

Years that are so far away! Reconstructing them, it’s as if the 
sound of the waves I hear now touched something inside me again 
and again, sometimes lulling me to sleep, then with the abnipt flash 
of a sword. I shall take up those images without attention to 
chronological order, just like these waves that come and go. 

1929. Night. I see the crowd pressing together. It’s a Moslem 
holiday. They have made a long trough in the middle of the street 
and filled it with burning coals. I move closer. My face is flushed 
by the powerful heat of the coals heaped, under a thin sheet 
of ashes, on the scarlet ribbon of living fire. All at once, a fantastic 
personage appears. With his face smeared red and white, he 
comes on the shoulders of four men dressed in red. They set him 
down, he starts to walk drunkenly over the coals, shrieking as he 
walks: “Allah! Allah!” 

The huge crowd devours the scene, stunned. The magician has 
now walked unharmed over the long ribbon of coals. Then one 
man breaks away from the multitude, kicks his sandals off, and 




goes over the same span on naked feet. Volunteers keep coming 
forward interminably. Some pause midway along the trough to 
stomp on the fire, crying out “Allah! Allah!”, howling, with hair- 
raising grimaces, rolling their eyes to heaven. Others pass over 
with children in their arms. No one is burned, or maybe they are, 
but I’m not sure. 

Beside the sacred river looms the temple of Kali, goddess of 
death. We enter, mingling with hundreds of pilgrims who have 
come from deep in Hindu country to win her grace. Terrified, in 
rags, they are shoved along by the Brahmins who demand money 
for something or other, every step of the way. The Brahmins lift 
one of the execrable goddess’ seven veils, and as they lift it, 
there is the blast of a gong loud enough to wake up the dead. The 
pilgrims fall to their knees, make their obeisance with joined 
hands, touch their foreheads to the ground, and move on to the 
next veil. The priests drive them into a courtyard, where they 
chop off the heads of goats with one blow from an ax and collect 
new tributes. The bleating of wounded animals is drowned out 
by the blasts of the gong. The filthy whitewashed walls are 
splashed right up to the roof with blood. The goddess is a statue 
with a swarthy face and white eyes. A scarlet tongue two meters 
long hangs from her mouth to the ground. Necklaces of skulls 
and emblems of death weigh down her ears and her neck. The 
pilgrims contribute their last coins before being swept out into the 

The poets who surrounded me to chant their songs and their 
poems were nothing like these abject pilgrims. Dressed in their 
trailing white garments, squatting on the grass, accompanying 
themselves with their tambourines, each let out a low-pitched, 
broken cry, and from his lips rose up a song he had composed in 
the same form and meter as the ancient, millennial songs. But the 
songs’ emphasis had changed. These were not sensual or joyful 
songs but songs of protest, songs against hunger, songs written in 
prison. Many of these young poets I met all over India, whose 
brooding eyes I’ll never be able to drive out of my mind, had just 
come out of jail and would perhaps return to their cells tomor- 
row. For they sought to rise up against misery and against the 
gods as well. This is the time we have been destined to live in. 

Luminous Solitude 


And this is the golden age of world poetry. While the new songs 
are hunted down, a million men sleep by the roadside, on the 
outskirts of Bombay, night after night. They sleep. They are 
born and they die. There is no housing, no bread, no medicines. 
Civilized, proud England left her colonial empire like this. She 
parted from her former subjects without leaving them schools, 
or industries, or housing, or hospitals, only prisons and mountains 
of empty whiskey bottles. 

The memory of Rango the orangutan is another tender image 
that comes back in with the waves. In Medan, Sumatra, I knocked 
at the gate of the run-down Botanical Gardens on more than one 
occasion. To my amazement, he came to open it for me each time. 
We used to go down a path hand in hand, to sit down at a table 
on which he banged with both hands and both feet. A waiter 
would then appear, and he would serve us our pitcher of beer, not 
too small, not too large, just right for the orangutan and the 

In the Singapore zoo we saw a lyrebird in a cage, glittering, 
enraged, with the resplendent beauty of a bird who has just 
flown out of Eden. And farther along, a black female panther, 
with the smell of the jungle still fresh on her, was pacing in her 
cage. She was a strange patch of starry night, a magnetic ribbon 
in constant motion, a lithe black volcano ready to destroy the 
world, a dynamo of pure, undulating power, and two yellow 
eyes, two unerring knives, probing with their fire, unable to 
understand her imprisonment or the human race. 

We came to the strange Snake Temple on the outskirts of the 
city of Penang, in what used to be called Indochina. 

This temple has been described over and over by travelers and 
journalists. So many wars, such repeated destruction, and so much 
time and rain have come down on the streets of Penang that I 
wonder if it is still there. Under the tiled roof, a low, blackish 
building, eaten away by the tropical rains, in a thick wilderness of 
huge plantain leaves. A dank smell. A scent of frangipani. When 
we first enter the temple, we see nothing in the dimness. A strong 
odor of incense, and something moving over there. It’s a snake 
stretching out lazily. Little by little we notice others. Then we 



see that there may be dozens. Later we realize that there are 
hundreds or thousands of snakes. There are tiny ones coiled 
around the candelabras, there are some that are dark, metallic, and 
slender, they all look drowsy and sated. Sure enough, fine porce- 
lain bowls can be seen everywhere, some brimming with milk, 
others filled with eggs. The snakes don’t notice us. We pass down 
the narrow labyrinths of the temple, brushing against them. They 
are over our heads, hanging from the golden architecture; they 
are sleeping on the stonework, or curled up on the altars. Over 
there is the dreaded Russell’s viper; it’s swallowing an egg, near a 
dozen lethal coral snakes, whose scarlet rings advertise their in- 
stant poison. I made out the fer-de-lance, several enormous 
pythons, the coluber de rusi, and the coluber noya. Green, gray, 
blue, black serpents filled the hall. A dead silence everywhere. 
From time to time, a bonze dressed in saffron robes crosses the 
shadows. The brilliant color of his tunic makes him look like one 
more snake, stirring lazily in quest of an egg or a bowl of milk. 

Were these snakes brought here? How did they adjust? Our 
questions are answered with a smile, we are told that they came 
on their own, and will go on their own when they feel like it. The 
doors, in fact, are open and there is no grating or glass or any- 
thing forcing them to stay in the temple. 

The bus was to leave Penang and cross the forest country and 
villages of Indochina to get to Saigon. No one understood my 
language, nor did I understand theirs. We made stops along the 
interminable road at out-of-the-way places in the jungle, and pas- 
sengers got off, peasants in unusual clothes, slant-eyed and quietly 
dignified. By now, only three or four remained in the undaunted 
old rattletrap that whined and threatened to come apart in the 
sweltering night. 

All of a sudden, I was seized with panic. Where was I? Where 
was I going? Why was I spending this endless night among these 
strangers? We were crossing from Laos into Cambodia. I took in 
the inscrutable faces of the last of my fellow travelers. Their eyes 
were wide open. They looked like robbers. No doubt about it, I 
was among the sort of bandits usually found in Oriental stories. 

They exchanged knowing glances and watched me out of the 
comer of their eyes. Just then, the bus came to a dead stop right 

Luminous Solitude 


in the middle of the jungle. I picked the spot where I would die. I 
wouldn’t let them carry me off to be sacrificed under those un- 
familiar trees whose dark shadows cut off the sky. I would die 
here, on this bench in the rickety bus, trapped among baskets full 
of vegetables and chickens in crates, the only friendly things 
around at that terrible moment. I looked about me, ready to face 
the fury of my killers, and I noticed that they, too, had vanished. 

I waited a long while, alone, with my spirit completely crushed 
by the intense darkness of the alien night. I was going to die and 
no one would hear about it. So far from my small, beloved coun- 
try! So far away from my books and from all those 1 loved! 

Suddenly a light appeared, and then another. The road came 
alive with lights. There was the sound of a drum; an outburst of 
shrill notes of Cambodian music. Flutes, tambourines, and torches 
filled the road with music and patches of light. A man got on and 
told me in English: “The bus has broken down. Since there will 
be a long wait, perhaps till daybreak, and there is no place to sleep 
here, the passengers went our to look for a troupe of musicians 
and dancers to entertain you.” 

For hours, under those trees that were no longer intimidating, I 
watched the lovely ritual dances of a noble and ancient culture 
and listened, till sunup, to its delightful music flooding the road. 

The poet cannot be afraid of the people. Life seemed to be 
handing me a warning and teaching me a lesson 1 would never 
forget: the lesson of hidden honor, of fraternity we know noth- 
ing about, of beauty that blossoms in the dark. 


This is a glorious day. We are present at the congress of the Indian 
National Congress Party. A nation in the thick of its fight for lib- 
eration. Thousands of delegates pack the galleries. I meet Gandhi. 
And Pandit Motilal Nehru, another patriarch of the movement. 
And his son, the elegant young Jawaharlal, recently back from Eng- 
land. Nehru is all for independence, while Gandhi favors simple 
autonomy as a necessary first step. Gandhi: the sharp profile of a 
very cunning fox; a practical man; a politician along the lines of 
our early creole leaders; a mastermind at committees; a shrewd 
tactician, indefatigable. As the multitude passes by in an endless 



stream, touching the hem of his white tunic worshipfully and 
crying “Gandhiji! Gandhiji!” he gives them a perfunctory salute 
and smiles without taking off his glasses. He receives messages and 
reads them; he answers telegrams; all this without effort; he is 
a saint who never wears himself out. Nehru: the intelligent pro- 
mulgator of their revolution. 

One of the great figures at the congress was Subhas Chandra 
Bose, impetuous demagogue, violent anti-imperialist, fascinating 
political figure of his country. In the war of 1914, during the 
Japanese invasion, he sided with the invaders against the British 
Empire. Many years later, here in India, one of his friends tells me 
how the fortress of Singapore fell. “Our weapons were trained on 
the Japanese besiegers. Suddenly we began asking ourselves why. 
We had our soldiers do an about-face and we pointed our guns at 
the English troops. It was quite simple. The Japanese invaders 
were just passing through. The English seemed to be here for all 

Subhas Bose was arrested, tried, found guilty of high treason, 
and sentenced to death by the British courts in India. The protests 
triggered off by the independence movement multiplied. At last, 
after many legal battles, his lawyer— Nehru himself— won am- 
nesty for him. He became a popular hero from that moment on. 


. . . Statues of Buddha everywhere, of Lord Buddha ... The 
severe, upright, worm-eaten statues, with a golden patina like an 
animal’s sheen, deteriorating as if the air were wearing them away 
... In their cheeks, in the folds of their tunics, at elbows and 
navel and mouth and smile, tiny blemishes: fungi, pockmarks, 
traces of jungle excrement ... Or the recumbent, the immense, 
recumbent statues, forty meters of stone, of sand granite, pale, 
stretched out among the rustling fronds, emerging suddenly from 
some corner of the jungle, from its surrounding site . . . Asleep 
or not asleep, they have been there a hundred years, a thousand, 
one thousand times a thousand years ... Yet there is some- 
thing soft about them and they are known for an other-worldly 
air of indecision, longing to stay or go away . . . And that 
very soft stone smile, that imponderable majesty which is 

Luminous Solitude 


nevertheless made of hard, everlasting stone— at whom, at how 
many, on the bloodstained planet are they smiling . . . ? The 
fleeing peasant women passed, the men from the fire, the 
visored warriors, the false high priests, the tourists who devour 
everything . . . And the statue remained in place, the immense 
stone with knees, with folds in its stone tunic, with a look lost in 
the distance and yet really here, thoroughly inhuman and also in 
some way human, in some form or contradiction a statue, god and 
not god, stone and not stone, under the screeching of black birds, 
surrounded by the wingbeats of red birds, of the birds of the 
forest ... We are reminded of the terrible Spanish Christs we 
inherited wounds and all, pustules and all, scars and all, with that 
odor given off by churches, of wax candles, of mustiness, of a 
closed room . . . Those Christs had second thoughts about be- 
ing men or gods ... To make them human beings, to bring 
them closer to those who suffer, midwives and beheaded men, 
cripples and avaricious men, the inner circles of churches and 
those outside the churches, to make them human, the sculptors 
gave them the most gruesome wounds, and all this ended up as the 
religion of suffering, as sin and you’ll suffer, don’t sin and you’ll 
suffer, live and you’ll suffer, leaving you no possible way out 
... Not here, here the stone found peace ... The sculptors 
rebelled against the canons of pain, and these colossal Buddhas, 
with the feet of giant gods, have a smile on their stone faces that is 
beatifically human, without all that pain . . . And they give off 
an odor, not of a dead room, not of sacristies and cobwebs, but an 
odor of vegetable space, of sudden gusts of wind swooping down 
in wild swirls of feathers, leaves, pollen from the infinite forest . . . 


In several essays on my poetry I have read that my stay in the Far 
East influenced it in some ways, especially Residencia en la tierra. 
As it happens, the poems of Residencia en la tierra are the only 
ones I wrote at that time, but without going so far as to defend my 
statement categorically, I say that this business of influence is 

All the esoteric philosophy of the Oriental countries, when 
confronted with real life, turned out to be a by-product of the 



anxiety, neurosis, confusion, and opportunism of the West; that 
is, of the crisis in the guiding principles of capitalism. In the India 
of those years there was little room for deep contemplation of 
one’s navel. An existence that made brutal physical demands, a 
colonial position based on the most cold-blooded degradation, 
thousands dying every day of cholera, smallpox, fever, and 
hunger, a feudal society thrown into chaos by India’s immense 
population and industrial poverty, stamped such great ferocity on 
life that all semblance of mysticism disappeared. 

The theosophic centers were generally run by adventurers 
from the West, including North and South Americans. Of 
course, there were people among them who acted in good faith, 
but the majority exploited a cheap market where exotic amulets 
and fetishes wrapped in metaphysical sales talk were sold whole- 
sale. These people were always spouting Dharma and Yoga. 
They reveled in religious acrobatics, all empty show and high- 
sounding words. 

For these reasons, the Orient struck me as a large hapless hu- 
man family, leaving no room in my conscience for its rites and 
gods. I don’t believe, then, that my poetry during this period 
reflected anything but the loneliness of an outsider transplanted 
to a violent, alien world. 

I recall one of those tourists of the occult, a vegetarian and a 
lecturer. He was a little middle-aged character named Powers, 
with a shiny bald dome and very light blue eyes, whose cynical 
look pierced right through you. He came from North America, 
from California, was a Buddhist, and he always closed his lectures 
with the following dietetic prescription: “As Rockefeller used to 
say, eat an orange every day.” 

Powers’s cheerful openness appealed to me. He spoke Spanish. 
After his lectures we used to go off together and feast on huge 
bellyfuls of roast lamb with onions. He was a Buddhist theolo- 
gian— whether or not he was the real thing, I don’t know— but 
his voracious appetite was more authentic than the contents of his 

He soon fell in love, first with a half-caste who was crazy 
about his tuxedo and his theories; she was an anemic young lady 
with long-suffering eyes who believed he was a god, a living Bud- 
dha. That’s how religions are bom. 

Luminous Solitude 


After several months with this woman, he came to see me one 
day about attending a new marriage of his. On his motor- 
cycle, provided by the commercial concern for which he was a 
refrigerator salesman, we quickly left groves, monasteries, and 
rice paddies behind us, finally coming to a small village with Chi- 
nese houses and Chinese inhabitants. Powers was received with 
fireworks and music, while the young bride, looking like an idol 
in her white make-up, remained seated on a chair that was higher 
than any of the others. Music was played while we sipped refresh- 
ments of all colors. Not once did Powers and his new wife say a 
word to each other. 

We returned to the city. Powers explained that only the bride 
took part in this wedding ritual. The ceremonies would go on 
without his having to be there. Later he would go back to live 
with her. 

“You realize you’re a polygamist, don’t you?” 

“My other wife knows about it and will be very happy,” he 

This statement had as much truth in it as his story about an 
orange a day. When we got to his house, his first wife’s home, we 
found her, the long-suffering half-caste, almost dead, with her 
cup of poison and a farewell note on the night table. Her dark 
body lay completely naked and motionless under the mosquito 
net. Her agony lasted several hours. 

Although I was now beginning to find him repulsive, I stood 
by Powers because his suffering was obviously sincere. The cynic 
in him had gone to pieces. I went to the funeral with him. We 
placed the cheap coffin on a pile of firewood, on the bank of a 
river. Powers lit some kindling with a match, muttering ritual 
phrases in Sanskrit. 

A few musicians dressed in orange-colored tunics chanted or 
blew on some very sad-sounding instruments. The pyre kept 
burning a little, then going out, and the fire had to be revived 
with matches. The river flowed on between its banks indiffer- 
ently. The eternal blue sky of the Orient also displayed absolute 
unconcern, infinite disregard for the pitiful and lonely funeral of 
a poor forsaken creature. 



My official duties demanded my attention only once every 
three months, when a ship arrived from Calcutta bound for Chile 
with hard paraffin and large cases of tea. I had to stamp and sign 
documents with feverish speed. Then three months of doing noth- 
ing followed, of solitary contemplation in markets and temples. 
This was the most painful period for my poetry. 

The street became my religion. The Burmese street, the Chi- 
nese quarter with its open-air theaters and its paper dragons and 
its brilliant lanterns. The Hindu street, the humblest of them, 
with its temples operated as a business by one caste, and the poor 
people prostrate in the mud outside. Markets where the betel 
leaves rose in green pyramids like mountains of malachite. The 
stalls and pens where they sold wild animals and birds. The 
winding streets where supple Burmese women walked with long 
cheroots in their mouths. All this engrossed me and drew me 
gradually under the spell of real life. 

' The caste system had the Indian people arranged like an amphi- 
theater of parallelepiped galleries superimposed one above the 
other, with the gods sitting at the top. The English, in turn, 
maintained their own caste system, starting with the small shop 
clerks, going on to professionals and intellectuals, then to ex- 
porters, and culminating on the system’s garden roof, where the 
aristocrats of the Civil Service and the bankers of the Empire 
lounged in comfort. 

These two worlds never touched. The natives were not al- 
lowed in the places reserved for the English, and the English lived 
away from the throbbing pulse of the country. This situation 
created problems for me. My British friends saw me in a gharry, a 
little horse-drawn cab used mainly for ephemeral trysts in transit, 
and offered me the kindly advice that a consul should never use 
these vehicles for any purpose. They also suggested that I should 
not frequent a lively Persian restaurant, where I drank the best tea 
in the world in little translucent cups. These were final warnings. 
After that, they stopped greeting me. 

This boycott couldn’t have pleased me more. Those intolerant 
Europeans were not really interesting, and after all, I had not 
come to the Orient to spend my life with transient colonizers but 
with the ancient spirit of that world, with that large hapless hu- 
man family. I went so deep into the soul and the life of the people 

Luminous Solitude 


that I lost my heart to a native girl. In the street she dressed like 
an Englishwoman and used the name Josie Bliss, but in the pri- 
vacy of her home, which I soon shared, she shed those clothes and 
that name to wear her dazzling sarong and her secret Burmese 

widower’s tango 

I had a troubled home life. Sweet Josie Bliss gradually became so 
brooding and possessive that her jealous tantrums turned into an 
illness. Except for this, perhaps I would have stayed at her side 
forever. I loved her naked feet, the white flowers brightening her 
dark hair. But her temper drove her to savage paroxysms. The 
letters I received from abroad made her jealous and furious; she 
hid my telegrams without opening them, she glowered at the air I 

Sometimes a light would wake me up, a ghost moving on the 
other side of the mosquito net. It was she, dressed in white, bran- 
dishing her long, sharpened native knife. It was she, walking 
around and around my bed for hours at a time, without quite 
making up her mind to kill me. When you die, she used to say to 
me, my fears will end. The next day she would carry out mysteri- 
ous rituals to make me remain faithful. 

She would have ended up by killing me. Fortunately, I received 
official notice of my transfer to Ceylon. I made secret prepara- 
tions for my departure and one day, abandoning my clothes and 
my books, I left the house as usual and boarded the ship that was 
to carry me far away. 

I was leaving Josie Bliss, a kind of Burmese panther, with the 
deepest sorrow. The ship had barely started pitching and rolling 
in the Gulf of Bengal, when I started to write “Tango del viudo” 
(“Widower’s Tango”), a tragic poem dedicated to the woman I 
lost and who lost me, because a volcano of anger boiled con- 
stantly in her blood. The night looked so vast, the earth so lonely! 


. . . Entire streets were set aside for opium . . . The smokers 
stretched out on low benches . . . They were in the true holy 
places of India . . . These contained no signs of luxury, no up- 



holstery, no silk cushions . . . Nothing but unpainted planks, 
bamboo pipes, and pillows of Chinese porcelain . . . An air of 
decorum and austerity prevailed which was not to be found in the 
temples ... The dreamers never stirred or made any sound 
... I smoked one pipe . . . There was nothing to it .. . Just 
a haze of smoke, warm and milky ... I smoked four pipes and 
was sick for five days, with a nausea that rose from my spinal 
cord, that descended from my brain . . . And hatred for the 
sunlight, for life itself . . . Opium's revenge . . . There had to 
be more to it than this ... So much had been said, so much had 
been written, there had been so much poking into briefcases and 
bags, in attempts to intercept the poison in customs, the famed, 
sacred poison ... I would have to overcome my queasiness 
. . . Become familiar with opium, experience it, before I could 
pass judgment ... I smoked many pipefuls, until l knew . . . 
There are no dreams, no images, there is no paroxysm . . . 
There is a melodious draining of strength, as if an infinitely soft 
note lingered in the air ... A blacking out, a hollow feeling 
inside oneself ... The slightest movement, an elbow, the neck, 
any far-off sound of a carriage, a horn, or a street cry, became 
part of the oneness, a delicious, sleepy sensation ... I under- 
stood why hired hands from plantations, day laborers, rickshaw- 
men who pull and pull the rickshaw all day long, would lay there 
dazed, motionless . . . Opium was not, as painted to me, the 
paradise of the exotic, but an escape for the exploited . . . All 
those in the opium dens were poor devils . . . There was no 
embroidered cushion, not the slightest hint of luxury . . . Not a 
flicker of light in the place, not even in the half -closed eyes of the 
smokers ... Were they resting, were they sleeping . . .? I was 
never able to find out ... No one spoke ... No one ever 
spoke . . . No furnishings, no rugs, nothing . . . On the worn 
benches, smoothed by so much contact, a few small wooden bol- 
sters could be seen . . . Nothing else, except silence and the 
aroma of opium , strangely repellent yet powerful . . . No doubt, 
here was a path to destruction ... The opium of the magnates, 
of the colonizers, was reserved for the colonized . . . At the en- 
trance, the smokers found their authorized ration, their number 
and their permit ready for them . . . Inside, a vast, smoky silence 
reigned, an immobility that eased away unhappiness and sweet- 

Luminous Solitude 


ened fatigue ... A hazy silence, the dregs of many broken 
dreams, found a placid retreat here . . . The dreamers with their 
half -closed eyes were living an hour submerged in the sea, an 
entire night on a hilltop, delighting in a subtle and delicious re- 
pose . . . 

After that, l did not go back to the smoking dens ... I al- 
ready knew ... I had experienced ... I had touched the un- 
touchable . . . hidden far back behind the smoke . . . 


In 1929, Ceylon, the most beautiful of the world’s large islands, 
had the same colonial structure as Burma and India. The English 
had entrenched themselves in their neighborhoods and their clubs, 
hemmed in by a vast multitude of musicians, potters, weavers, 
plantation slaves, monks in yellow, and immense gods carved into 
the stone mountains. 

Caught between the Englishmen dressed every evening in din- 
ner jackets and the Hindus I couldn’t hope to reach in their fabu- 
lous immensity, I had only solitude open to me, and so that time 
was the loneliest in my life. Yet I also recall it as the most lumi- 
nous, as if a lightning flash of extraordinary brightness had 
stopped at my window to throw light on my destiny inside and 

I went to live in a small bungalow recently built in the suburb 
of Wellawatte, near the sea. It was a sparsely populated area, with 
the surf breaking on the reefs nearby. The music of the sea 
swelled into the evening. 

In the morning, the miracle of this newly washed nature was 
overwhelming. I joined the fishermen very early. Equipped with 
long floats, the boats looked like sea spiders. The men pulled 
out fish of vivid colors, fish like birds from the teeming forest, 
some with the deep blue phosphorescence of intense living velvet, 
others shaped like prickly balloons that shriveled up into sorry 
little sacs of thorns. 

With horror I watched the massacre of those jewels of the sea. 
The fish were sold in segments to the poor. The machetes hacked 
to pieces the God-sent sustenance from the deep, turning it into 
blood-drenched merchandise. 

9 o 


Strolling up the shore, I would come to the elephants’ bathing 
hole. With my dog alongside, I couldn’t get lost. Out of the 
smooth water surged a perfectly still, gray mushroom: soon it 
turned into a serpent, then into an enormous head, and finally into 
a mountain with tusks. No other country in the world had, or has 
even now, so many elephants doing work on its roads. They were 
an amazing sight, far from any circus or the bars of any zoo, 
trudging up and down with their loads of timber, like hard-work- 
ing giant journeymen. 

My dog and my mongoose were my sole companions. Fresh 
from the jungle, the latter grew up at my side, slept in my bed, 
and ate at my table. No one can imagine the affectionate nature of 
a mongoose. My little pet was familiar with every minute of my 
day-to-day life, she tramped all over my papers, and raced after 
me all day long. She curled up between my shoulder and my head 
at siesta time and slept there the fitful, electric sleep of wild 

My tame mongoose became famous in the neighborhood. The 
constant battles mongooses wage so courageously against the 
deadly cobras have earned them a kind of mythological prestige. I 
believe in this, having often seen them fight these snakes, whom 
they defeat through sheer agility and because of their thick salt- 
and-pepper coat of hair, which deceives and confuses the reptiles. 
The country people believe that, after battling its poisonous 
enemy, the mongoose goes in search of antidotal herbs. 

Anyway, the fame of my mongoose, who accompanied me 
every day on my long walks by the seashore, brought all the 
neighborhood kids to my house one afternoon in an impressive 
procession. An enormous snake had appeared in the streets, and 
they had come to ask for Kiria, my celebrated mongoose, whose 
sure victory they were ready to cheer on. Followed by my ad- 
mirers— entire bands of Tamils and Singhalese youngsters wear- 
ing nothing but loincloths— I led the fight-bound parade, with 
my mongoose in my arms. 

The ophidian was the dreaded black polonga, or Russell’s viper, 
which has a deadly bite. It was sunning itself in the weeds on top 
of a white water main, silhouetted like a whip on snow. 

My followers dropped behind silently. I followed the pipe and 
released my mongoose about two meters from the viper. Kiria 

Luminous Solitude 

9 ' 

sniffed danger and crawled slowly toward the serpent. My small 
friends and I held our breaths. The great battle was about to 
begin. The snake coiled, raised its head, opened its gullet, and 
fixed its hypnotic eyes on the small animal. The mongoose kept 
edging forward. Only a few centimeters from the monster’s 
mouth, however, she realized exactly what was about to happen. 
Then, with a great leap, she streaked wildly in the opposite direc- 
tion, leaving serpent and spectators behind, and did not stop run- 
ning until she reached my bedroom. 

That’s how I lost caste, more than thirty years ago, in the 
suburb of Wellawatte. 

The other day, my sister brought me a notebook containing 
my earliest poems, written in 1918 and 1919. Reading them over, 
I had to smile at their childish and adolescent melancholy, that 
literary sense of solitude given off by all my youthful work. The 
young writer cannot write without that shudder of loneliness, 
even when it is only imaginary, any more than the mature writer 
will be able to produce anything without a flavor of human com- 
panionship, of society. 

I learned what true loneliness was, in those days and years in 
Wellawatte. During all that time I slept on a field cot like a sol- 
dier, an explorer. All I had for company were a table and two 
chairs, my work, my dog, my mongoose, and the “boy” who did 
the housework and returned to his village at night. This man was 
not, properly speaking, a companion; his status as an Oriental 
servant forced him to be quieter than a shadow. His name was, or 
still is, Bhrampy. There was no need to give him any orders, since 
he always had everything ready: my meal on the table, my 
freshly ironed clothes, the bottle of whiskey on the verandah. He 
seemed to have forgotten how to speak. The only thing he knew 
how to do was smile, with huge equine teeth. 

Solitude, in this case, was not a formula for building up a writ- 
ing mood but something as hard as a prison wall; you could smash 
your head against the wall and nobody came, no matter how you 
screamed or wept. 

Across the blue air, across the yellow sand, past the primordial 
forest, past the vipers and the elephants, I realized, there were 
hundreds, thousands of human beings who worked and sang by 



the waterside, who lit fires and molded pitchers; and passionate 
women also, sleeping naked on thin mats, under the light of the 
immense stars. But how was I to get close to that throbbing world 
without being looked upon as an enemy? 

Step by step, I became familiar with the island. One night I 
crossed all the dark neighborhoods of Colombo to attend a gala 
dinner. From a darkened house came the voice of a boy or a 
woman singing. I had the rickshaw stop. At the humble door, I 
was overwhelmed by a strong scent, Ceylon’s unmistakable odor: 
a mixture of jasmine, sweat, coconut oil, frangipani, and magnolia. 
Dark faces, which blended in with the color and the odor of the 
night, invited me in. I sat down quietly on a mat, while the mys- 
terious human voice that had made me stop sang on in the dark; 
the voice of a boy or a woman, tremulous and sobbing, rose to an 
unbelievable pitch, was suddenly cut off, and sank so low it be- 
came as dark as the shadows, clinging to the fragrance of the 
frangipani, looping itself in arabesques and suddenly dropping 
with all its crystalline weight, as if its highest jet had touched 
the sky, only to spill back quickly in among the jasmines. 

I stayed there a long while, caught in the magic spell of the 
drums and fascinated by the voice, and then I went on my way, 
drunk with the enigma of an emotion I can’t describe, of a 
rhythm whose mystery issued from the whole earth. An earth 
filled with music and wrapped in fragrance and shadows. 

The English were already seated at the table, dressed in black 
and white. 

“Forgive me. I stopped along the way to listen to some music,” 
I told them. 

They, who had lived in Ceylon for twenty-five years, reacted 
with elegant disbelief. Music? The natives had musicians? No one 
had known about it. This was news to them. 

This terrible gap between the British masters and the vast 
world of the Asians was never closed. And it ensured an inhuman 
isolation, a total ignorance of the values and the life of the Asians. 

There were exceptions within this narrow colonialism, I found 
out later. Suddenly an Englishman from the Service Club would 
go off the deep end about some Indian beauty. He was immedi- 
ately fired and cut off like a leper by his countrymen. Something 
else happened at about this time: the colonists ordered the burn- 
ing of a Singhalese peasant’s hut, to rout him out in order to 

Luminous Solitude 


expropriate his land. The Englishman ordered to bum the hut to 
the ground was a modest official named Leonard Woolf. He re- 
fused and was dismissed from his post. Shipped back to England, 
he wrote one of the best books ever published about the Orient: 
A Village in the Jungle. A masterpiece true both to life and to 
literature, it was virtually eclipsed by the fame of his wife, none 
other than Virginia Woolf, the great subjective novelist of world 

Little by little the impenetrable crust began to crack open and I 
struck up a few good friendships. At the same time, I discovered 
the younger generation, steeped in colonialist culture, who talked 
only about books just out in England. I found out that the pianist, 
photographer, critic, and cinematographer Lionel Wendt was the 
central figure of a cultural life torn between the death rattles of 
the Empire and a human appraisal of the untapped values of 

Lionel Wendt, who owned an extensive library and received all 
the latest books from England, got into the extravagant and gen- 
erous habit of every week sending to my house, which was a good 
distance from the city, a cyclist loaded down with a sack of 
books. Thus, for some time, I read kilometers of English novels, 
among them the first edition of Lady Chatter ley’s Lover, pub- 
lished privately in Florence. Lawrence’s works impressed me be- 
cause of their poetic quality and a certain vital magnetism focused 
on the hidden relationships between human beings. However, it 
soon became clear to me that, for all his genius, he was frustrated 
by his passion for instructing the reader, like so many other great 
English writers. D. H. Lawrence sets up a course in sexual educa- 
tion that has almost nothing to do with what we learn spon- 
taneously from love and life. He ended up boring me stiff, but 
this did not lessen my admiration for his tortured mystico-sexual 
search, all the more painful because it was so useless. 

One of the things I remember from my Ceylon days is a great 
elephant hunt. 

The elephants had grown much too numerous in one district, 
where they made constant raids, damaging houses and farmlands. 
For over a month, all along the banks of a wide river, the peasants 
had gradually rounded up the wild herds— with grass fires, bonfires, 
and tom-toms— and driven them back toward one spot in the 



jungle. Night and day, the fires and the noise excited the huge 
beasts, drifting now like a slow river toward the northwestern 
part of the island. 

On this particular day, the kraal was all set. A stockade penned 
off a part of the forest. I saw how the first elephant went in 
through a narrow passage and sensed itself trapped. It was too 
late. Hundreds more followed into this dead-end passage. Almost 
five hundred strong, the immense herd of elephants could neither 
advance nor retrace their steps. 

The most powerful males charged the palisades, trying to 
knock them down, but innumerable spears surged up on the other 
side and halted them. Then they regrouped in the center of the 
enclosure, determined to protect the females and the young. 
Their organization and their protectiveness made them a touching 
sight. They let out an anguished call, a kind of neigh or trumpet 
blast, and in their despair uprooted the weakest trees. 

Suddenly the tamers went in, mounted on two huge trained 
elephants. The domesticated pair acted like common policemen. 
They took their places on either side of the captive animal, pum- 
meled him with their trunks, and helped reduce him to immobil- 
ity. Next, with thick ropes, the hunters secured one of his hind 
legs to a strong tree. One by one, the creatures were rendered 
helpless in this same way. 

The captive elephant turns down his food for a good many 
days. But the hunters know his weaknesses. They let the animals 
fast awhile and then bring them the sprouts and tender stalks of 
their favorite plants, those they would forage for on their long 
forest treks when they were still free to roam at will. At last, the 
elephant breaks down and eats. He has been tamed and begins to 
learn his heavy chores. 


In Colombo there seemed to be no visible symptoms of revolu- 
tion. Its political climate was different from India’s. Everything 
was engulfed by an oppressive calm. The country supplied Eng- 
land with the finest tea in the world. 

The country was split into sectors, or compartments. The 
English, who occupied the tip of the pyramid and lived in large 

Luminous Solimde 


residences with gardens, were followed by a middle class much 
like that in South American countries. They were and may still 
be called burghers and were descendants of the former Boers, the 
Dutch settlers of South Africa exiled to Ceylon during the colo- 
nial war of the last century. 

Below them was the Buddhist and Moslem population of Cey- 
lon, which numbered many millions. And still further down, mak- 
ing up the worst-paid working ranks, and also running into the 
millions, were the Indian immigrants, all from the southern part 
of that country; they spoke Tamil and professed the Hindu re- 

In the so-called “polite society,” which paraded its finest 
clothes and jewels in Colombo’s exclusive clubs, two famous 
snobs competed for leadership. One was a phony French noble- 
man, Count de Mauny, who had a group of devotees. The other 
was an elegant and devil-may-care Pole, my friend Winzer, who 
dominated the few fashionable salons there were. This man was 
extremely witty, quite cynical, and a source of knowledge about 
everything in the world. He had a strange profession— “preserver 
of the cultural and archaeological treasure”— and going along 
with him on one of his official expeditions was an eye-opening 
experience to me. 

Excavations had brought to light two magnificent cities the 
jungle had swallowed up: Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Pil- 
lars and corridors gleamed once again in the brilliant Singhalese 
sun. Naturally, everything that could be shipped was carefully 
packed and went on its way to the British Museum in London. 

My friend Winzer was pretty good at his work. He went to 
remote monasteries and, to the enormous satisfaction of the Bud- 
dhist monks, he loaded the official van with marvelous stone 
sculptures, thousands of years old, that would end up in En- 
gland’s museums. The look of contentment on the faces of the 
saffron-garbed monks was something to see, when Winzer would 
leave them some p2inted-up celluloid Buddhist images, made in 
Japan, as replacements for their own antiques. They would look 
them over with reverent eyes and set them up on the same altars 
from which the jasper and granite statues had smiled for centuries. 

My friend Winzer was an excellent product of the Empire; 
that is, an elegant short-change artist. 



Something came to throw a cloud over those days literally 
burned away by the sun. Without warning, my Burmese love, the 
tempestuous Josie Bliss, pitched camp in front of my house. She 
had come all the way from her far-off country. Believing that rice 
was not grown anywhere except in Rangoon, she arrived with a 
sack of it on her back, with our favorite Paul Robeson records, 
and a long, rolled-up mat. She spent all her time posted at the 
front door, looking out for anyone who came to visit me, and she 
would pounce on them and insult them. I can see her now, con- 
sumed by her overwhelming jealousy, threatening to burn down 
my house, and attacking a sweet Eurasian girl who had come to 
pay a call. 

The colonial police considered her uncontrollable behavior a 
focus of disruption in the quiet street, and I was warned that she 
would be thrown out of the country if I didn’t take her in. I felt 
wretched for days, racked between the tenderness her unhappy 
love stirred in me and the terror I had of her. 1 didn’t dare let her 
set foot in my house. She was a love-smitten terrorist, capable of 

One day, at last, she made up her mind to go away. She begged 
me to go with her to the ship. When it was time to weigh anchor 
and I had to go ashore, she wrenched away from the passengers 
around her, and seized by a gust of grief and love, she covered my 
face with kisses and bathed me with her tears. She kissed my arms, 
my suit, in a kind of ritual, and suddenly slipped down to my 
shoes, before I could stop her. When she stood up again, the chalk 
polish of my white shoes was smeared like flour all over her face. I 
couldn’t ask her to give up her trip, to leave the ship with me 
instead of going away forever. My better judgment prevented me 
from doing that, but my heart received a great scar which is still 
part of me. That unrestrained grief, those terrible tears rolling 
down her chalky face, are still fresh in my memory. 

I had almost finished writing the first part of Residencia en la 
tierra. But my work was progressing very slowly. Distance and a 
deep silence separated me from my world, and I could not bring 
myself to enter wholeheartedly the alien world around me. 

Things that happened in my life, which was suspended in a 

Luminous Solitude 


vacuum, were brought together in my book as if they were natu- 
ral events: “Closer to life’s blood than to the ink.” I tried to 
purify my style, but relied more and more on a wild melancholy. 
I insisted on truth and effective rhetoric (because they are the 
ingredients for the bread of poetry) in a bitter style that worked 
systematically toward my own destruction. The style is not only 
the man. It is also everything around him, and if the very air he 
breathes does not enter into the poem, the poem is dead: dead 
because it has not had a chance to breathe. 

I have never read with so much pleasure or so voluminously as I 
did in that suburb of Colombo where I lived all alone for so long. 
From time to time I would return to Rimbaud, Quevedo, or 
Proust. Swann's Way made me experience all over again the tor- 
ments, the loves and jealousies of my adolescence. And I realized 
that in the phrase from Vinteuil’s sonata, a musical phrase Proust 
referred to as “aerial and fragrant,” one savors not only the most 
exquisite description of sensuous sound but also a desperate mea- 
sure of passion itself. 

My problem, in those solitary surroundings, was to find this 
music so that I might listen to it. With the help of my friend the 
musician and musicologist, we pursued the matter until we 
learned that Proust’s Vinteuil was probably a combination of 
Schubert and Wagner and Saint-Saens and Faure and d’Indy and 
Cesar Franck. My shamefully skimpy musical curriculum had 
omitted almost all those composers. Their works were boxes that 
were missing, or sealed to me. My ear could never recognize any 
but the most obvious melodies and, even then, with difficulty. 

Making further headway in the investigation, more literary 
than musical, I finally got hold of a three-record album of Cesar 
Franck’s Sonata for Piano and Violin. No doubt about it, Vin- 
teuil’s phrase was there. There was absolutely no room for doubt. 

For me its attraction had been purely literary. In his sharp- 
sighted narrative about a dying society he loved and hated, 
Proust, the greatest exponent of poetic realism, lingered with 
passionate indulgence over many works of art, paintings and 
cathedrals, actresses and books. But although his insight illumi- 
nated whatever it touched, he often went back to the enchant- 
ment of this sonata and its renascent phrase with an intensity that 
he probably did not give to any other descriptive passages. His 



words led me to relive my own life, to recover the hidden senti- 
ments I had almost lost within myself in my long absence. I 
wanted to see in that musical phrase Proust’s magical narrative 
and I was swept away on music’s wings. 

The phrase loses itself in the depths of the shadows, falling in 
pitch, prolonging, enhancing its agony. It appears to build up in 
anguish like a Gothic structure, volutes repeated on and on, 
swayed by the rhythm that lifts a slender spire endlessly upward. 

The element born of pain looks for a triumphal way out that, in 
its rise, will not deny its origin transmuted by sadness. It curls 
seemingly into a melancholy spiral, while the dark notes of the 
piano accompany time and again the death and renascence of the 
sound. The heart-rending intimacy of the piano repeats, time and 
again, the serpentine birth, until love and pain come together in 
death and victory. 

There could be no doubt for me that this was the phrase and 
this the sonata. 

Savage darkness came down like a fist on my house lost among 
the coconut trees of Wellawatte, but each night the sonata lived 
with me, leading me on, welling around me, filling me with its 
everlasting sadness, its victorious melancholy. 

Until now, the critics who have scrutinized my work have not 
detected this secret influence I am confessing here. For I wrote a 
large part of Residencia en la tierra there, in Wellawatte. Al- 
though my poetry is not “fragrant or aerial” but sadly earth- 
bound, I think those qualities, so often clad in mourning, have 
something to do with my deep feelings for this music that lived 
within me. 

Years later, back in Chile once more, I met the big three of 
Chilean music— young, gathered together at a party. It was 1932, 
I believe, in Marta Brunet’s home. Claudio Arrau was chatting in 
a corner with Domingo Santa Cruz and Armando Carvajal. I 
sauntered over, but they hardly spared me a glance. They went 
on talking imperturbably about music and composers. So I tried 
to show off a little, bringing up that sonata, the only one I knew. 
They looked at me with a distracted air and spoke down to me: 
“Cesar Franck? Why Cesar Franck? Verdi is what you should 
get to know.” And they went on with their conversation, bury- 
ing me under my own ignorance, from which I still haven’t been 
able to escape. 

Luminous Solitude 



Solitude in Colombo was not only dull but indolent. I had a few 
friends on the street where I lived. Girls of various colorings 
visited my campaign cot, leaving no record but the lightning 
spasm of the flesh. My body was a lonely bonfire burning night 
and day on that tropical coast. One friend, Patsy, showed up 
frequently with some of her friends, dusky and golden, girls of 
Boer, English, Dravidian blood. They went to bed with me sport- 
ingly, asking for nothing in return. 

One of them told me all about her visits to the “chummeries.” 
That’s what they called the bungalows where young Englishmen, 
clerks in shops or firms, lived together in groups to save on money 
and food. Without a trace of cynicism in her voice, as if it were 
the most natural thing in the world, the girl told me that she had 
once had sex with fourteen of them. 

“And why did you do it?” I asked her. 

“They were having a party one night and I was alone with 
them. They turned on a gramophone, I danced a few steps with 
each of them, and as we danced, we’d lose our way into one 
bedroom or another. That way, everyone was happy.” 

She was not a prostitute. No, she was just another product of 
colonialism, a candid and generous fruit off its tree. Her story 
impressed me, and from then on, I had a soft spot for her in my 

My solitary bungalow was far from any urban development. 
When I rented it, I tried to find out where the toilet was; I couldn’t 
see it anywhere. Actually, it was nowhere near the shower, it was at 
the back of the house. I inspected it with curiosity. It was a 
wooden box with a hole in the middle, very much like the artifact 
I had known as a child in the Chilean countryside. But our toilets 
were set over a deep well or over running water. Here the recep- 
tacle was a simple metal pail under the round hole. 

The pail was clean every morning, but I had no idea how its 
contents disappeared. One morning I rose earlier than usual, and I 
was amazed when I saw what had been happening. 

Into the back of the house, walking like a dusky statue, came 
the most beautiful woman I had yet seen in Ceylon, a Tamil of 
the pariah caste. She was wearing a red-and-gold sari of the 



cheapest kind of cloth. She had heavy bangles on her bare ankles. 
Two tiny red dots glittered on either side of her nose. They must 
have been ordinary glass, but on her they were rubies. 

She walked solemnly toward the latrine, without so much as a 
side glance at me, not bothering to acknowledge my existence, 
and vanished with the disgusting receptacle on her head, moving 
away with the steps of a goddess. 

She was so lovely that, regardless of her humble job, I couldn’t 
get her off my mind. Like a shy jungle animal she belonged to 
another kind of existence, a different world. I called to her, but it 
was no use. After that, I sometimes put a gift in her path, a piece 
of silk or some fruit. She would go past without hearing or look- 
ing. That ignoble routine had been transformed by her dark 
beauty into the dutiful ceremony of an indifferent queen. 

One morning, I decided to go all the way. I got a strong grip 
on her wrist and stared into her eyes. There was no language I 
could talk with her. Unsmiling, she let herself be led away and 
was soon naked in my bed. Her waist, so very slim, her full hips, 
the brimming cups of her breasts made her like one of the thou- 
sand-year-old sculptures from the south of India. It was the com- 
ing together of a man and a statue. She kept her eyes wide open 
all the while, completely unresponsive. She was right to despise 
me. The experience was never repeated. 

I hardly believed it when I read the cable. The Minister of 
Foreign Relations was notifying me of my new appointment. I 
would end my term as consul in Colombo and go on to carry out 
the same function in Singapore and Batavia. This raised me from 
the first circle of poverty into the second. In Colombo I had the 
right to retain (if it was taken in) the sum of $166.66. Now, as 
consul in two colonies at once, I could retain (if it was taken in) 
twice $166.66; namely, the sum of $333.32 (if it was taken in). 
This meant that, for the present anyway, I would stop sleeping on 
a field cot. My material aspirations were not too high. 

But what was I going to do with Kiria, my mongoose? Give 
her to the impudent neighborhood kids, who no longer believed 
in her power against serpents? I wouldn’t dream of it. They 
would neglect her; they would not let her eat at the table, as she 
was used to with me. Set her loose in the forest to revert to her 
primitive state? Never. She had doubtless lost her defensive in- 

Luminous Solitude 


stincts and the birds of prey would devour her in an unguarded 
moment. But how could I take her with me? Such a singular 
passenger would never be allowed on board ship. 

So I decided to have Bhrampy, my Singhalese “boy,” make the 
trip with me. It was a millionaire’s luxury, and it was also mad- 
ness; we were going to countries— Malaya, Indonesia— whose lan- 
guages Bhrampy couldn’t speak a word of. The mongoose, on the 
other hand, could travel incognito in a basket on deck. Bhrampy 
knew her as well as I did. Customs was a problem, but crafty 
Bhrampy would be sure to get around it. 

And that’s how, with sadness, joy, and the mongoose, we left 
the island of Ceylon, headed for another, unknown world. 

It must be difficult to understand why Chile had consulates 
scattered all over the world. It surely would seem odd that a small 
republic tucked down in a comer near the South Pole should post 
and maintain official representatives on archipelagos, coasts, and 
reefs on the other side of the globe. 

In truth— as I see it— these consulates are evidence of the flights 
of fancy and self-importance we South Americans generally in- 
dulge in. But also, as I have already mentioned, from these far- 
flung places Chile got jute, and paraffin to manufacture candles, 
and, above all, tea, enormous quantities of tea. In Chile we drink 
tea four times a day. And we can’t grow it. Once we had a 
widespread strike among the nitrate workers because of a short- 
age of this exotic product. I recall that one day, after a few whis- 
keys, some English exporters asked me what we did in Chile with 
such exorbitant quantities of tea. 

“We drink it,” I told them. 

(If they expected to pump out of me some secret industrial 
exploitation of tea in Chile, I was sorry to disappoint them.) 

The consulate in Singapore had already been in existence for 
ten years. I went ashore, then, with the confidence instilled in me 
by my twenty-three years, with Bhrampy and my mongoose in 
tow. We went straight to the Raffles Hotel. There I sent out my 
laundry, of which I had quite a bit, and then I sat down on the 
verandah. I stretched out lazily in an easy chair and ordered one, 
two, perhaps three gin pahits. 

It was all very much like something in Somerset Maugham, 



until I decided to look in the telephone book for my consulate’s 
headquarters. It wasn’t listed, dammit! I immediately put an 
urgent call through to the British government offices. They re- 
plied, after checking, that there was no Chilean consulate there. I 
made inquiries about the consul, Senor Mansilla. They knew 
nothing of him. 

I was crushed. I barely had enough money to pay for one day 
at the hotel and for my laundry. Then it struck me that the 
phantom consulate must have its headquarters in Batavia, and I 
decided to get back on the ship I had come on, since Batavia was 
where it was going and it was still in port. I ordered my laundry 
removed from the tub where it was soaking, Bhrampy rolled it up 
into a wet bundle, and we set out for the docks at breakneck 

They were drawing up the ship’s ladder. I puffed up the steps. 
My ex-traveling companions and the ship’s officers stared at me 
incredulously. I moved back into the cabin I had left that morn- 
ing, and lying on my back on the bunk, I closed my eyes as the 
ship pulled away from that unlucky port. 

I had met a Jewish girl on the ship. Her name was Kruzi. A 
blonde, on the plump side, she had orange-colored eyes and was 
bubbling over with good spirits. She told me she had a good job 
in Batavia. I stayed close to her during the cruise’s farewell party. 
She kept dragging me out to dance, between drinks, and I fol- 
lowed her clumsily in the slow contortions that were popular at 
the time. We spent that last night making love in my cabin, in a 
friendly way, knowing that chance had brought us together for 
this brief time only. I told her about my misadventures. She com- 
forted me gently and her lighthearted tenderness touched me. 

Kruzi, in turn, confided the real nature of the job waiting for 
her in Batavia. There was an organization, more or less interna- 
tional, which placed European girls in the beds of respectable 
Asians. She had been given a choice between a maharaja, a prince 
of Siam, and a wealthy Chinese merchant. She picked the last, a 
young but mild-mannered man. 

When we landed, the following day, I got a look at the Chinese 
magnate’s Rolls-Royce as well as its owner’s profile through the 
automobile’s flowered curtains. Kruzi vanished among the crowd 
and luggage. 

I settled into the Nederlanden Hotel and was getting ready for 

Luminous Solitude 

io 3 

lunch, when I saw Kruzi come in. She flung herself into my arms, 
choked by sobs. 

“They’re throwing me out of here. I have to leave tomorrow.” 

“But who is throwing you out, why are they throwing you 

She sobbed out her unhappy story. She was about to get into 
the Rolls-Royce when the immigration officers stopped her and 
subjected her to a brutal interrogation. She had to confess every- 
thing. The Dutch authorities considered it a grave offense for her 
to live as the concubine of a Chinese. They finally let her go, on 
her promise not to visit her gallant and to get back on the ship she 
had arrived in, which was returning to the West the next day. 

What hurt her most was to disappoint the man who had been 
waiting for her, a sentiment the imposing Rolls-Royce may have 
had some bearing on. Still, Kruzi was sentimental at heart. There 
was much more to her tears than her frustrated interests: she felt 
humiliated and deeply offended. 

“Do you know his address? Do you have his telephone num- 
ber? ” I asked. 

“Yes,” she said. “But I’m afraid they’ll arrest me. They threat- 
ened to throw me in jail.” 

“You have nothing to lose. Go see the man whose dreams must 
have been full of you, though he did not even know you. You 
owe him at least a few words. Why worry about the Dutch 
police at this point? Get even with them. Go see your Chinese. 
Take care, give them the slip, and you’ll feel better. I’m sure 
you’ll leave this country feeling happier then.” 

Late that night she returned. She had seen her mail-order 
suitor, and she told me all about their meeting. The Oriental was a 
literate man who affected French manners and spoke French 
quite well. He was married, observed the mores and practices of 
honorable Chinese matrimony, and led a very boring life. 

The yellow-skinned suitor had prepared for his white, Western 
sweetheart a bungalow with a garden, mosquito screens, Louis 
XVI furniture, and a huge bed, which they tried out that night. 
The house’s owner sadly showed her the little refinements he had 
been preparing for her, the silver knives and forks (he himself 
used only chopsticks), the bar stocked with European drinks, the 
refrigerator filled with fruit. 

Then he stopped before a huge locked chest. He took a key 

from his pants pocket and opened the trunk, revealing the 
strangest of treasures to Kruzi’s eyes: hundreds of ladies’ under- 
garments, soft, silken panties, the scantiest of briefs— intimate 
women’s dainties, hundreds, thousands of them stuffed into that 
piece of furniture sanctified by the pungent aroma of sandal- 
wood. Every kind of silk, every color, was there. From violet to 
yellow, from every shade of pink to the mystic greens, from 
strident reds to shimmering blacks, from electric sky-blues to 
nuptial white. The entire rainbow of male concupiscence put to- 
gether by a fetishist who obviously had collected the items for 
his own sensual pleasure. 

“I was stunned,” Kruzi said, beginning to sob again. “I grabbed 
a handful at random and here they are.” 

I, too, was touched by this mystery of human behavior. Our 
Chinese, a serious businessman, importer and exporter, amassed 
ladies’ panties as if he were collecting butterflies. Who would 
have dreamed it? 

“Let me have one of them,” I said to my friend. 

She picked out a white and green garment and stroked it softly 
before handing it to me. 

“Write something on it for me, Kruzi, please.” 

She smoothed it out with care and wrote my name and hers on 
its silky surface, which she also sprinkled with a few tears. 

She left the next day without my seeing her, and I have never 
seen her again. Those sheerest of panties, with her words of dedi- 
cation and her tears, traveled around in my suitcases among my 
clothes and my books for a good many years. I never knew when 
or how some cheeky lady visitor walked out of my house with 
them on. 


In those days, when motels had not yet come into the world, the 
Nederlanden was a rarity. It had a large central building, for 
dining-room service and offices, and then individual bungalows 
for the guests, separated by tiny gardens and robust trees. In the 
high tops of these trees lived an infinitude of birds, flying squirrels 
that flitted from branch to branch, and insects that chirred just as 
if in the jungle. Bhrampy outdid himself at his job of looking 

Luminous Solitude 


after the mongoose, which was more and more restive in her new 

There really was a Chilean consulate here. At least it was listed 
in the telephone book. I set out for its offices on the following 
day, rested and more appropriately dressed. The consular coat-of- 
arms of Chile hung on the fa9ade of a huge building occupied by 
a steamship line. One of its numerous personnel took me to the 
office of the manager, a florid, corpulent Dutchman who looked 
more like a longshoreman than like the manager of a shipping 

“I am the new Chilean consul,” I introduced myself. “First, let 
me thank you for your help, and then I’d be obliged if you would 
brief me on the running of the consulate. I propose to take over 
my post right away.” 

“I am the only consul here! ” he said angrily. 

“How’s that?” 

“Start off by paying me what you people owe me!” he shouted. 

The man may have known something about shipping, but he 
had no idea what good manners were, in any language. Phrase 
after phrase tumbled out, while he chewed furiously on an awful 
cheroot that was polluting the air. 

The wild man hardly let me get a word in edgewise. His indig- 
nation and his cheroot threw him into deafening coughing fits, or 
else into gargles that turned into gobs of spit. I was finally able to 
get in a word in self-defense: “Sir, I don’t owe you a thing, and I 
don’t have to pay you a thing. It is my understanding that you are 
consul ad bonorem , honorary consul, that is. And if this seems 
open to question, I hardly see how it can be settled with all this 
shouting, which I don’t intend to put up with.” 

Later I learned that the nasty Dutchman had every argument 
on his side. The fellow had been the victim of a swindle that, of 
course, could not be blamed either on the government of Chile or 
on me. Mansilla was the crook at the source of the Dutch- 
man’s rage. I discovered that Mansilla, the so-and-so, had never 
assumed his duties as consul in Batavia; he had been living in Paris 
for some time. He had made a deal with the Dutchman to have 
him perform the consular duties and send him, Mansilla, the 
papers and fees he took in every month. Mansilla pledged to pay 
him a monthly stipend, which he never paid. Thence the indigna- 



non of this naive Dutchman, who came down on my head like a 
collapsing roof. 

I felt miserable the next day. Malignant fever, flu, loneliness, 
and hemorrhaging. I was burning hot and perspiring profusely. 
My nose began to bleed as it had in my childhood in Temuco’s 
cold climate. 

Mustering all my strength, I headed for the government offices. 
They were located in Buitenzorg, in the magnificent Botanical 
Gardens. The bureaucrats raised their blue eyes from their white 
papers with difficulty. They took out their pens, which were also 
dripping with perspiration, and wrote down my name with a few 
drops of sweat. 

I came out feeling worse than when I had gone in. I walked 
down the avenues and finally sat down under an enormous tree. 
Here everything was healthy and cool, life breathed calm and 
powerful. Before me, the giant trees lifted their tranks straight, 
smooth, and silvery, a hundred meters into the air. I read the 
enameled nameplates identifying them. They were varieties of 
eucalyptus I was not familiar with. A chill perfume drifted down 
to my nostrils from the immense height. That emperor of trees had 
taken pity on me, and a gust of its scent restored my strength. 

Or perhaps it was the green solemnity of the Botanical Gar- 
dens, the infinite variety of leaves, the crisscrossing vines, the 
orchids flashing like sea stars in the foliage, the undersea depth of 
that forest-like enclosure, the shrieks of the macaws, the squeals 
of the monkeys— all of it restored my confidence in the future 
and returned my zest for living, which had been flickering like 
the stub of a candle. 

I got back to the hotel in better spirits and sat down on the 
verandah of my bungalow, with writing paper and my mongoose 
on my table; I had decided to send a cable to the Chilean govern- 
ment. I needed ink. So I called a boy from the hotel and asked him 
in English for some ink, hoping he’d bring me an inkwell. He 
didn’t show the slightest glimmer of understanding. He just called 
another boy, also dressed in white and barefoot, to help interpret 
my baffling request. It was no use. Whenever I said “Ink” and 
moved my pen, dipping it into an imaginary inkwell, the seven 
or eight boys who had by now congregated to advise the first 

Luminous Solitude 


repeated my motion as one man, with pens they had drawn out 
of their pockets, exclaiming vigorously, “Ink, ink,’’ and nearly 
dying with laughter. They thought it was a new ritual they 
were learning. I rushed desperately into the bungalow across 
the way, followed by the string of servants in white. 

From the solitary table I took an inkwell that by sheer luck 
was there, and waving it in front of their astonished eyes, I 
screamed at them: “This! This!” 

They all smiled and sang out together: “ Tinta ! T intaP’ 

And that was how I learned that, in Malay, ink is called by the 
same name, tinta, as in Spanish. 

In time I regained the right to take up my duties as consul. My 
disputed patrimony consisted of a moth-eaten rubber stamp, an 
ink pad, and a few folders with records of profits and losses. The 
profits had ended up in the pockets of the wily consul operating 
from Paris. His swindled Dutch surrogate handed me the insig- 
nificant sheaf of papers with the cold smile of a frustrated masto- 
don, and never stopped chewing on his cheroot. 

From time to time I signed consular invoices and put the dilapi- 
dated official stamp on them. That’s how I obtained the dollars 
that, converted into guilders, made it possible for me to eke out a 
living: food and lodging for me, Bhrampy’s wages, and the up- 
keep of my mongoose Kiria, who was growing noticeably and 
consumed three or four eggs a day. Besides, I had to buy myself a 
white dinner jacket and tails, which I undertook to pay for by the 
month. Sometimes I would sit, almost always alone, in a crowded 
open-air cafe alongside a wide canal, to have a beer or a gin pahit. 
That is, I resumed my desperately uneventful life. 

The rice table of the hotel restaurant was fit for a king. A 
procession of ten or fifteen serving boys would come into the 
dining room, filing past with their respective platters held high. 
Each platter was divided into sections, and each section held a 
mysterious, magnificent delicacy. Each item of this endless variety 
of food was mounted on a rice base. I have always been a hearty 
eater, and I had been undereating for such a long time; I would 
choose something from the platter offered by each of the fifteen 
or eighteen serving boys, until my plate became a small mountain 
where exotic fish, indescribable eggs, astonishing vegetables, in- 



credible chickens, the choicest, rarest meats covered the summit 
of my lunch like a flag. The Chinese say that food must excel in 
three things: taste, aroma, and color. The rice table at my hotel 
had those three virtues and one more: abundance. 

At about this time I lost my mongoose. Kiria had the dangerous 
habit of tagging after me wherever I went, with quick, im- 
perceptible steps. Following me meant plunging into streets 
traveled by cars, trucks, rickshaws, and Dutch, Chinese, and 
Malay pedestrians. A turbulent life for a trusting mongoose 
who knew only two persons in the whole world. 

The inevitable happened. On my return to the hotel one day, I 
saw the tragedy written all over Bhrampy’s face. I didn’t ask him 
anything. But when I sat down on the verandah, she did not 
come to jump on my knees or brush her furry tail against my 

I placed an ad in the papers: “Lost: mongoose, answers to the 
name of Kiria.” There was no reply. None of the neighbors had 
seen her. Maybe she was already dead. She had disappeared for- 

Bhrampy, her guardian, felt so disgraced that he stayed out of 
sight. My clothes, my shoes, were taken care of by a phantom. 
Sometimes I thought I heard Kiria squeal, calling me from a tree 
during the night. I would turn on the light, open the windows 
and doors, peer into the coconut trees. It wasn’t she. The world 
Kiria knew had betrayed her; her trustfulness had shattered in the 
city’s dangerous jungle. I was grief-stricken for a long time. 

Overcome with shame, Bhrampy decided to go back to his 
native country. I was not happy about it, but the mongoose had 
really been the only thing we had in common. One afternoon he 
came in to show me the new suit he had bought so that he could 
return well dressed to his home town in Ceylon. He showed up 
suddenly, dressed in white and buttoned all the way up to his 
neck. The most surprising thing was the huge chef’s cap he had 
settled on his jet-black head. I burst out laughing, in spite of 
myself. Bhrampy was not insulted. On the contrary, he smiled at 
me sweetly, with a smile of understanding for my ignorance. 

My new home in Batavia was on a street called Probolinggo. It 
had a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom. I never 

Luminous Solitude 


owned a car, but I did have a garage that was always empty. I had 
more than enough space in this tiny house. I took on a Javanese 
cook, an old peasant woman, charming and egalitarian. A “boy,” 
also Javanese, served table and looked after my clothes. There I 
finished Residencia en la tierra. 

My solitude became even deeper. I decided to get married. I 
had met a creole— to be exact, a Dutch girl with a few drops of 
Malay blood— and I became very fond of her. She was a tall, 
gentle girl and knew nothing of the world of arts and letters. 
(About this marriage of mine, my friend and biographer Marga- 
rita Aguirre was to write several years later: “Neruda returned to 
Chile in 1932. Two years earlier, in Batavia, he had married Maria 
Antonieta Hagenaar, a young Dutch woman who lived in Java. 
She is quite proud of being a consul’s wife and has a most exotic 
opinion of America. She doesn’t know any Spanish, but she’s 
learning it. However, there is no doubt that it is not just the 
language that she has had trouble learning. In spite of all this, she’s 
very much attached to Neruda, and they are always together. 
Maruca, that’s what Pablo calls her, is tall, stately, hieratic.”) 

My life was very simple. I was soon meeting other amiable 
people. Linked by our common language, the Cuban consul and 
his wife became my friends as a matter of course. Capablanca’s 
countryman talked nonstop, like a self-winding machine. Offi- 
cially he was representing Machado, the Cuban tyrant. Yet he 
would tell me how items belonging to political prisoners— 
watches, rings, sometimes even gold teeth— would turn up in the 
bellies of sharks caught in Havana’s bay. 

The German consul, Hertz, was a great admirer of the modern 
plastic arts, Franz Marc’s blue horses, Wilhelm Lehmbruck’s 
elongated figures. He was a sensitive person, romantic in tempera- 
ment, a Jew with a centuries-old cultural heritage. 

I once asked him: “And this Hitler whose name appears from 
time to time in the newspapers, this anti-Semite, anti-Communist 
leader, don’t you think he can assume power?” 

“Impossible,” he told me. 

“Why impossible, when history is full of the most absurd in- 

“But you don’t know Germany,” he stated flatly. “That’s the 
one place where it is absolutely impossible for a mad agitator like 
him to run even a village.” 



My poor friend, poor Consul Hertz! That mad agitator barely 
missed running the world. And the ingenuous Hertz, with all his 
culture and his noble romanticism, must have ended up in some 
monstrous, anonymous gas chamber. 


0 + 0 + 0 +*+ 0 + 0+0 

Spain in My Heart 


A long sea voyage of two months brought me back to Chile in 
1932. There I published El hondero entusiasta, which had 
been mislaid among my papers, and Residencia en la tierra, which 
I had written in the Orient, In 1933 I was appointed consul of 
Chile in Buenos Aires, and there I arrived in the month of August. 

Federico Garcia Lorca arrived in that city almost at the same 
time, to direct his tragedy Blood Wedding, performed by Lola 
Membrives’s troupe. We hadn’t known each other, but we met 
in Buenos Aires and were often feted together by writers and 
friends. Of course, we had our share of incidents. Federico had 
his detractors. So did I, and I still have them. These detractors are 
driven by a desire to snuff out the lights, to keep us from being 
seen. That’s what happened this time. Because there was a lot of 
interest in attending the banquet the P.E.N. club was holding for 
Federico and me at the Plaza Flotel, someone kept the phones 
busy all day long spreading the word that the dinner in our honor 
had been called off. They were so persistent that they even called 
the hotel manager, the telephone operators, and the chef to make 
sure no reservations were accepted and no dinner was prepared. 
But the maneuver fell through and in the end Federico Garcia 
Lorca and I got together with a hundred Argentine writers. 

We came up with a big surprise. We had prepared a talk al 
alimon. You probably don’t know what that means, and neither 


I 12 


did I. Federico, who always had some invention or idea up his 
sleeve, explained: “Two bullfighters can fight the same bull at the 
same time, using only one cape between them. This is one of the 
most perilous feats in bullfighting. That’s why it is so seldom seen. 
Not more than twice or three times in a century, and it can be 
done only by two bullfighters who are brothers, or at least blood 
relations. This is called fighting a bull al alimon. And that’s the 
way we’ll do our talk.” 

And that is what we did. But no one knew about it beforehand. 
When we got up to thank the president of the P.E.N. club for 
honoring us with the banquet, we did it together, like two bull- 
fighters, to make our single speech. The diners sat at small, sepa- 
rate tables, and Federico was at one end of the room, I at the 
other. People on my side tugged at my jacket to make me sit 
down, believing there was a mix-up, and the same thing happened 
to Federico on the other side of the room. Well, we set out speak- 
ing together, with me saying “Ladies” and he continuing with 
“and gentlemen,” twining our phrases throughout, so that they 
flowed like a single speech, right to the end. The oration was 
dedicated to Ruben Dario, because, though no one could accuse 
us of being modernists, both Garcia Lorca and I regarded Ruben 
Dario as one of the most creative poets in the Spanish language. 

Here is the text of the speech: 
neruda: Ladies . . . 

lorca: . . . and gentlemen: In bullfighting there is what is 
known as “bullfighting al alimon in which two toreros, hold- 
ing one cape between them, outwit the bull together. 
neruda: Linked as if by an electrical impulse, Federico and I will 
together thank you for this prestigious reception. 
lorca: At these gatherings it is customary for a poet to bring 
forth his living word, be it of silver or wood, and hail his 
companions and friends with his own voice. 
neruda: We, however, are going to seat a dead man among you, 
to bring you a table companion who is widowed, obscured by 
the darkness of a death greater than other deaths, widowed of 
life, whose dazzling spouse he was, in his shining hour. We shall 
stand in his fiery shadow, we shall call out his name until his 
powers leap back from oblivion. 

lorca: First, a symbolic embrace, with our penguin-like tender- 

Spain in My Heart 113 

ness, to that exquisite poet, Amado Villar. Then we offer a 
great name upon the festal board, in the knowledge that wine- 
glasses will shatter, forks fly in search of the eye they hunger 
for, and a tidal wave stain the table linen. We give you the poet 
of America and Spain: Ruben . . . 
neruda: Dario. Because, ladies . . . 
lorca: and gentlemen . . . 

neruda: Where, in Bueno Aires, is there a Ruben Dario Plaza? 
lorca: Where is Ruben Dario’s statue? 
neruda: He loved parks. Where is Ruben Dario Park? 
lorca: What florist carries Ruben Dario roses? 
neruda: Where are Ruben Dario apple trees? Ruben Dario 

lorca: Where is the cast of Ruben Dario’s hand? 
neruda: Where? 

lorca: Ruben Dario sleeps in the Nicaragua of his birth under a 
ghastly lion made of plaster like those the rich set at their gates. 
neruda: A mail-order lion for him who was a founder of lions, a 
lion without stars for him who dedicated the stars to others. 
lorca: In an adjective he gave us the sounds of the forest. Like 
Fray Luis de Granada, a master of words, he created constella- 
tions with the lemon, and the stag’s foot, and mollusks filled 
with terror and infinity: he sent us to sea with frigates and 
shadows in the pupils of our eyes, and he built a limitless espla- 
nade of gin across the grayest afternoon the sky has ever 
known, and he talked to the south wind in familiar terms, all 
heart, like the romantic poet he was, and his hand rested on the 
Corinthian capital, skeptical about all the ages, ironic and sor- 

neruda: His luminous name should be remembered in its every 
essence, with the terrible griefs of his heart, his incandescent 
incertitude, his descent into the deepest circles of hell, his rise to 
the castles of fame, his greatness as a poet, then and forever and 

lorca: As a Spanish poet, he was teacher in Spain to the older 
masters as well as to the children, with a sense of universality 
and a generosity present-day poets do not possess. He was 
teacher to Valle-Inclan and Juan Ramon Jimenez and the 
Machado brothers, and his voice was water and nitrate in the 

1 14 


furrows of our time-honored language. From Rodrigo Caro to 
the Argensolas and Don Juan del Arguijo, the Spanish language 
had not had such a festival of words, such clashing of conso- 
nants, such fire and such form as in Ruben Dario. From Velaz- 
quez’s landscape and Goya’s campfire, from Quevedo’s melan- 
choly to the precious apple cheeks of Majorcan peasant girls, 
Dario traveled over the land of Spain as if it were his own 

neruda: The tide brought him to Chile, the warm sea of the 
North, and the sea left him there, abandoned on the rugged, 
rock-toothed coast, and the ocean pounded him with foam and 
bells, and Valparaiso’s black wind covered him with songs of 
salt. Tonight let us make him a statue of air and let smoke, 
voices, circumstances, and life flow through it, like his magnifi- 
cent poetry with dreams and sounds flowing through it. 
lorca: But I want to give this statue of air blood like a coral 
branch stirred by the sea; nerves like a cluster of lightning in a 
photograph; the head of a minotaur with Gongora’s snow 
painted on by a flight of hummingbirds; the wandering and 
absent eyes of a millionaire of tears; and also his failings. Shelv- 
ing eaten away by hedge mustard, where the empty spaces are 
echoes of a flute; the cognac bottles of his spectacular drunken 
sprees; his charming lack of taste; and the barefaced verbal 
stunts that make the vast majority of his poems so human. The 
fertile substance of his great poetry stands outside norms, forms, 
or schools. 

neruda: Federico Garcia Lorca, a Spaniard, and I, a Chilean, turn 
over the honor of this evening among friends to that great 
shadow who sang more loftily than we and hailed with his 
unique voice the Argentine soil on which we stand. 
lorca: Pablo Neruda, a Chilean, and I, a Spaniard, linked by our 
language and by the person of the great Nicaraguan, Argen- 
tine, Chilean, and Spanish poet, Ruben Dario. 
neruda and lorca: In whose honor and glory we raise our 

I remember an evening when I received unexpected support 
from Federico in a colossal erotic escapade. We had been invited 
out by one of those millionaires that only Argentina or the 
United States can produce. He was a born rebel, a self-made man 

Spain in My Heart 


who had amassed a fantastic fortune with a sensationalist news- 
paper. Girded by an immense park, his house was the dynamic 
nouveau riche’s dream come true. Cages by the hundreds, with 
many-colored pheasants from all over the world, lined the 
driveway. His library consisted of antique books bought by cable 
at bookdealers’ auctions throughout Europe, and what’s more, it 
was quite comprehensive and filled to capacity. But the most 
spectacular thing about it was the floor of his enormous reading 
room, every inch of which was covered with panther skins sewed 
together into a single, gigantic carpet. I learned that the man had 
agents in Africa, Asia, and the Amazon, commissioned exclusively 
to collect the skins of leopards, ocelots, fabulous cats, whose spots 
now glistened beneath my feet in this ornate library. 

That’s what it was like in the home of Natalio Botana, a notori- 
ous, powerful capitalist, who dominated public opinion in Buenos 
Aires. At the table, Federico and I sat on either side of the host 
and across from a tall, ethereal lady poet who kept her green eyes 
on me more than on Federico during dinner. This consisted of a 
whole steer brought right to the hot coals and ashes in an enor- 
mous handbarrow on the shoulders of eight or ten gauchos. The 
evening sky was a fierce blue, and starry. The aroma of the beef 
roasted in its hide, sublime invention of the Argentines, mingled 
with the breath of the pampas, the scent of clover and mint, and 
the chatter of a thousand crickets and tadpoles. 

The lady poet and I, along with Federico, who was delighted 
and moved to laughter by everything, rose from the table after 
dinner and went off toward the lighted swimming pool. Garcia 
Lorca walked in the lead, chatting and laughing. He was happy. 
He was always like that. Happiness was as much a part of him as 
his skin. 

A high tower soared above the shimmering swimming pool, 
dominating it. The whiteness of its lime was phosphorescent 
under the night lights. 

We climbed slowly to the tower’s highest lookout. Up there 
the three of us, poets of different styles, were far removed from 
the world. The pool’s blue eye gleamed below. Farther off, we 
could hear guitars and singing from the party. Over us the night 
hung so close, swarming with such a multitude of stars, that it 
seemed to envelop our heads, submerging them in its depths. 

I took the tall, golden girl in my arms, and when I kissed her, I 

found her sensual, well fleshed, all woman. To Federico’s surprise, 
we lay on the floor of the lookout, and I was starting to undress 
her, when I caught his enormous eyes staring down at us, not 
fully believing what was happening. 

“Get out of here! Go see that nobody comes up the stairs!” I 
shouted at him. 

As the sacrifice to the starry sky and the Aphrodite of the night 
was about to be consummated high in the tower, Federico hustled 
off cheerfully on his mission as aide and sentinel, with such ill 
fortune, however, that he rolled down the tower’s darkened steps. 
The lady and I had to go help him up, with great difficulty. And 
he hobbled around for two weeks. 


I was not at the consulate in Buenos Aires very long. At the 
start of 1934 , 1 was transferred to Barcelona in the same capacity. 
Don Tulio Maqueira, the Consul General of Chile in Spain, was 
my boss. He was, incidentally, the most dedicated official in the 
Chilean consular service I have come across. A severe man, with a 
reputation for reticence, he was extremely kind, understanding, 
and cordial to me. 

Don Tulio Maqueira quickly learned that I was very bad at 
subtracting and multiplying, and that I didn’t know how to divide 
(I have never been able to learn). So he said to me: “Pablo, you 
should go live in Madrid. That’s where the poetry is. All we have 
here in Barcelona is that terrible multiplication and division that 
certainly doesn’t need you around. I can handle it.” 

In Madrid, turned overnight, as if by magic, into a Chilean 
consul in the capital of Spain, I met Garcia Lorca’s and Alberti’s 
friends. They were many. And within a few days I was one with 
the Spanish poets. Spaniards and Latin Americans are different, of 
course— a difference that is borne with pride, or in error, by either 

The Spaniards of my generation were more brotherly, more 
close-knit and good-spirited than their counterparts in Latin 
America. I found that we were more cosmopolitan, had gone 
more into other languages and cultures. There were few among 


Spain in My Heart 

them who spoke any other language than Spanish. When Desnos 
and Crevel came to Madrid, I had to act as interpreter, so that 
they and the Spaniards could communicate. 

The young poet Miguel Hernandez was one of Federico’s and 
Alberti’s friends. I met him when he came up, in espadrilles and 
the typical corduroy trousers peasants wear, from his native Ori- 
huela, where he had been a goatherd. I published his poems in my 
review Caballo Verde ( Green Horse), and I was enthusiastic 
about the radiance and vigor of his exuberant poetry. 

Miguel was a peasant with an aura of earthiness about him. He 
had a face like a clod of earth or a potato that has just been pulled 
up from among the roots and still has its subterranean freshness. 
He was living and writing in my house. My American poetry, 
with other horizons and plains, had its impact and gradually made 
changes in him. 

He told me earthy stories about animals and birds. He was the 
kind of writer who emerges from nature like an uncut stone, with 
the freshness of the forest and an irresistible vitality. He would 
tell me how exciting it was to put your ear against the belly of a 
sleeping she-goat. You could hear the milk coursing down to the 
udders, a secret sound no one but that poet of goats has been able 
to listen to. 

At other times he would talk to me about the nightingale’s 
song. Eastern Spain, where he came from, swarmed with blossom- 
ing orange trees and nightingales. Since that bird, that sublime 
singer, does not exist in my country, crazy Miguel liked to give 
me the most vivid imitation of what it could do. He would shinny 
up one of the trees in the street and from its highest branches 
would whistle or warble like his beloved native birds. 

Since he had nothing to live on, I tried to get him a job. It was 
hard to find work for a poet in Spain. At last a viscount, a high 
official in the Ministry of Foreign Relations, took an interest in his 
case and replied that yes, he was all for it, he had read Miguel’s 
poems, admired them, and Miguel just had to indicate what posi- 
tion he preferred and he would be given the appointment. 

I was jubilant and said: “Miguel Hernandez, your future is all 
set, at last. The viscount has a job for you. You’ll be a high- 
ranking employee. Tell me what kind of work you want, and 
your appointment will go through.” 


I 18 

Miguel gave it some thought. His face, with its deep, premature 
lines, clouded up with anxiety. Hours went by and it was not 
until late in the afternoon that he gave me his answer. With the 
radiant look of someone who has found the solution to his whole 
life, he said to me: “Could the viscount put me in charge of a 
flock of goats somewhere near Madrid?” 

The memory of Miguel Hernandez can never be rooted out of 
my heart. The song of the Levantine nightingales, their spires of 
sound soaring between the darkness and the orange blossoms, was 
an obsession with him. They were in his blood, in his earthy and 
wild poetry, where all the extravagances of color, of perfume, 
and of the voice of the Spanish Levant came together, with the 
exuberance and the fragrance of a powerful and virile youth. 

His face was the face of Spain. Chiseled by the light, rutted like 
a planted field, it had some of the roundness of bread or of earth. 
Filled with fire, burning in that surface scorched and made 
leathery by the wind, his eyes were two beams of strength and 

I saw the very elements of poetry rise out of his words, altered 
now by a new greatness, by a savage light, by the miracle that 
converts old blood into an infant son. In all my years as poet, as 
wandering poet, I can say that life has not given me the privilege 
of setting eyes on anyone with a vocation and an electrical knowl- 
edge of words like his. 


Federico and Alberti, who lived near my house in an apartment 
overlooking an avenue of trees, his lost grove; the sculptor Al- 
berto, a baker from Toledo who was master of abstract sculpture; 
Altolaguirre and Bergamin; the great poet Luis Cernuda; Vicente 
Aleixandre, poet of limitless dimension; Luis Lacasa, the architect 
—all of us, singly or in groups, would get together every day in 
someone’s home or in a cafe. 

From Castellana Avenue or from the Correos tavern we would 
go to my house, the “House of Flowers,” in the Argiielles sector. 
Down from the upper deck of one of the double-decker buses 
that my countryman, the great Cotapos, called “bombardones” we 
would come in boisterous groups to eat, drink, and sing. Among 

Spam in My Heart 


my young companions in poetry and merriment, I recall Arturo 
Serrano Plaja, poet; Jose Caballero, a painter of dazzling talent 
and a very amusing fellow; Antonio Aparicio, who came from 
Andalusia straight to my house; and so many others who are no 
longer near or no longer alive, but whose friendship I miss as 
keenly as some part of my body or the substance of my soul. 

Ah, Madrid in those days! I would make the rounds of the 
working-class neighborhoods with Maruja Mallo, the Galician 
painter, looking for the places where esparto grass and mats were 
sold, looking for the streets of the barrelmakers, of the rope- 
makers, streets where they deal in all the dry-goods of Spain, 
goods that entangle and choke her heart. Spain is dry and rocky, 
and the high sun beats down on it hard, drawing sparks from the 
flatlands, building castles of light out of clouds of dust. The only 
true rivers of Spain are its poets: Quevedo, with his profound 
green waters and black foam; Calderon, with his syllables that 
sing; the crystalline Argensolas; Gongora, river of rubies. 

I saw Valle-Inclan only once. Very thin, with an endless white 
beard and a complexion like a yellowing page, he seemed to have 
walked out of one of his own books, which had pressed him 

I met Ramon Gomez de la Serna in his crypt, the Pombo cafe, 
and later on I saw him at home. I can never forget Ramon’s 
booming voice guiding, from his spot in the cafe, the conversation 
and the laughter, the trends of thought and the smoke. Ramon 
Gomez de la Serna is for me one of the finest writers in our 
language, and his genius has some of the variegated greatness of 
Quevedo and Picasso. Every page of Ramon Gomez de la Serna 
pries like a ferret into the physical and the metaphysical, into the 
truth and the spectrum, and what he knows and has written about 
Spain has been said by him and no one else. He has put together a 
secret universe. He has changed the syntax of the language with 
his own hands, leaving his fingerprints so embedded in it that no 
one can wipe them off. 

I saw Don Antonio Machado several times, sitting in his favor- 
ite cafe dressed in his black notary’s suit, silent and withdrawn, as 
sweet and austere as an old Spanish tree. Incidentally, mean- 
tongued Juan Ramon Jimenez, diabolical old brat of poetry, said 



of him, of Don Antonio, that he went around covered in ashes 
and that cigarette butts were all he carried in his pockets. 

It was Juan Ramon Jimenez, poet of great splendor, who took 
it upon himself to teach me all about that legendary Spanish envy. 
This poet who had no need to envy anyone, since his work is a 
resplendent beam flashing on the dark beginnings of the century, 
affected the life of a hermit, lashing out from his hideaway at 
anything he thought might overshadow him. 

The younger generation— Garcia Lorca and Alberti, as well as 
Jorge Guillen and Pedro Salinas— were doggedly needled by Juan 
Ramon, a bearded demon who dug his knife daily into one or 
another. He said unfavorable things about me every week in the 
elaborate critical commentaries he published Sunday after Sunday 
in the newspaper El Sol. But I made up my mind to live and let 
live. I never answered back. I never replied to literary attacks, and 
I still don’t. 

The poet Manuel Altolaguirre, who had a printing press and the 
vocation of printer, came by my house one day to tell me that he 
was going to bring out a handsome poetry review, in the finest 
format and with the best work in Spain. 

“There’s only one person who can edit it,” he said to me, “and 
you’re that person.” 

I had been a heroic founder of magazines who quickly dropped 
them or was dropped by them. In 1925 I started Caballo de Bastos 
( Jack of Clubs). In those days we wrote without punctuation and 
were discovering Dublin by way of the streets in Joyce. Humberto 
Diaz Casanueva sported a turtleneck sweater, a very daring thing 
for a poet at that time. His poetry was lovely and immaculate, as 
it has continued to be. Rosamel del Valle always dressed in black 
from head to toe, as poets should. I remember these two distin- 
guished friends as my active collaborators. I have forgotten some 
of the others. At any rate, our galloping horse jolted the times. 

“Yes, Manolito, I’ll edit the review.” 

Manuel Altolaguirre was an excellent printer whose own hands 
arrayed the cases with magnificent Bodoni characters. Manolito 
honored poetry with his poems and with his hands, a hard- 
working archangel’s hands. He also printed Pedro de Espinosa’s 
Fabula del Genii ( Fable of the Genii River). What brilliance 


Spain in My Heart 

flashed from the lustrous golden verses of the poem in that majes- 
tic typography that made the words stand out as if they had been 
recast in the smelting furnace. 

Five fine, handsome issues of my Caballo Verde appeared on 
the bookstands. I liked to watch Manolito, always full of laughter 
and smiles, pick out the type, set the characters in the cases, and 
then activate the small letterpress with his foot. Sometimes he 
would set off with the copies of the review in his daughter Pa- 
loma’s baby carriage. People in the streets made much of this: 
“What a wonderful father! Going out even in this hellish traffic 
with his baby!” 

The baby was Poetry, riding her Green Horse. The review 
published Miguel Hernandez’s first new poem and of course the 
poems of Federico, Cernuda, Aleixandre, Guillen (the good one, 
the Spaniard). Neurotic, turn-of-the-century Juan Ramon Ji- 
menez went on aiming his Sunday darts at me. Rafael Alberti 
didn’t like the title: “Why a green horse? ‘Red Horse’ is what it 
should be called.” 

I did not change its color. And Rafael and I didn’t bicker over 
it. We never bickered over anything. There is plenty of room in 
the world for horses and poets of all the colors of the rainbow. 

The sixth number of Caballo Verde was left on Viriato Street, 
the pages not yet collated and sewn. It was dedicated to Julio Her- 
rera y Reissig— a second Lautreamont, produced by Montevideo 
—and the texts written in his honor by the poets of Spain were 
silenced in all their beauty, still-born, having nowhere to go. The 
magazine was to have come out on July 19, 1936, but on that day 
the streets were filled with shooting. In his African garrison an 
obscure general, Francisco Franco, had risen against the Republic. 


Right now, as I write these lines, Spain is officially celebrating 
many— so many— years of successful insurrection. In Madrid at 
this very moment, dressed in blue and gold, surrounded by his 
Moorish guards, and at his side the ambassadors of the United 
States, England, and several other countries, the Supreme Com- 
mander is reviewing his troops. Troops made up mostly of boys 
who did not see that war. 



But I saw it. A million dead Spaniards. A million exiles. It 
seemed as if that thorn covered with blood would never be 
plucked from the conscience of mankind. And yet, perhaps the 
boys who are now passing in review before the Moorish guards 
don’t know the truth about the terrible history of that war. 

For me, it started on the evening of July 19, 1936. A resource- 
ful and pleasant Chilean, Bobby Deglane, was wrestling promoter 
in Madrid’s huge Circo Price arena. I had expressed my reserva- 
tions about the seriousness of that “sport” and he convinced me to 
go to the arena that evening with Garcia Lorca to see how au- 
thentic the show really was. I talked Garcia Lorca into it and we 
agreed to meet there at a certain time. We were going to have 
great fun watching the truculence of the Masked Troglodyte, the 
Abyssinian Strangler, and the Sinister Orangutan. 

Federico did not show up. He was at that hour already on his 
way to death. We never saw each other again: he had an appoint- 
ment with another strangler. And so the Spanish war, which 
changed my poetry, began for me with a poet’s disappearance. 

What a poet! I have never seen grace and genius, a winged 
heart and a crystalline waterfall, come together in anyone else as 
they did in him. Federico Garcia Lorca was the extravagant 
“duende,” his was a magnetic joyfulness that generated a zest for 
life in his heart and radiated it like a planet. Openhearted and 
comical, worldly and provincial, an extraordinary musical talent, 
a splendid mime, easily alarmed and superstitious, radiant and 
noble, he was the epitome of Spain through the ages, of her popu- 
lar tradition. Of Arabic-Andalusian roots, he brightened and per- 
fumed like jasmine the stage set of a Spain that, alas, is gone 

Garcia Lorca’s monumental command of metaphor seduced 
me, and everything he wrote attracted me. For his part, he would 
sometimes ask me to read him my latest poems, and halfway 
through the reading he would break in, shouting: “Stop, stop, I’m 
letting myself be influenced by you! ” 

In the theater and in a silence, in a crowd and in a small group, 
he generated beauty. I have never known anyone else with such 
magical hands, I never had a brother who loved laughter more. 
He laughed, sang, played the piano, leaped, invented, he sparkled. 
Poor friend, he had all the natural gifts, and he was a goldsmith, a 

Spam in My Heart 123 

drone in the hive of great poetry, but he also wasted his creative 
talent sometimes. 

“Listen,” he would say, taking hold of my arm, “do you see 
that window? Don’t you think it’s chorpatelic? ” 

“And what does ‘chorpatelic’ mean?” 

“I don’t know either, but one must know what is and what’s 
not chorpatelic. Otherwise, you’re lost. Look at that dog, he’s 
really chorpatelic! ” 

Or he would tell me that he had been invited to a ceremony 
commemorating Don Quixote at a school for boys, and that when 
he walked into the classroom the children, led by the headmis- 
tress, sang: 

This book, which was explicated 
by F. Rodriguez Marin ( Ph.D .), 
will be everywhere celebrated 
forever and ever. Amen. 

Once I gave a talk on Garcia Lorca, years after his death, and 
someone in the audience asked me: “In your ‘Oda a Federico 
Garcia Lorca,’ why do you say that they paint hospitals blue for 

“Look, my friend,” I replied, “asking a poet that kind of ques- 
tion is like asking a woman her age. Poetry is not static matter but 
a flowing current that quite often escapes from the hands of the 
creator himself. His raw material consists of elements that are and 
at the same time are not, of things that exist and do not exist. 
Anyway, I’ll try to give you an honest answer. For me, blue is the 
most beautiful color. It suggests space as man sees it, like the dome 
of the sky, rising toward liberty and joy. Federico’s presence, his 
personal magic, instilled a mood of joy around him. My line prob- 
ably means that even hospitals, even the sadness of hospitals, 
could be transformed by the magic spell of his influence and sud- 
denly changed into beautiful blue buildings.” 

Federico had a premonition of his death. Once, shortly after 
returning from a theatrical tour, he called me up to tell me about 
a strange incident. He had arrived with the La Barraca troupe at 
some out-of-the-way village in Castile and camped on the edge of 
town. Overtired because of the pressures of the trip, Federico 

I2 4 


could not sleep. He got up at dawn and went out to wander 
around alone. It was cold, the knife-like cold that Castile reserves 
for the traveler, the outsider. The mist separated into white 
masses, giving everything a ghostly dimension. 

A huge rusted iron grating. Broken statues and pillars fallen 
among decaying leaves. He had stopped at the gate of an old 
estate, the entrance to the immense park of a feudal manor. Its 
state of abandonment, the hour, and the cold made the solitude 
even more penetrating. Suddenly Federico felt oppressed as if by 
something about to come out of the dawn, something about to 
happen. He sat down on the broken-off capital of a pillar lying 
toppled there. 

A tiny lamb came out to browse in the weeds among the ruins, 
appearing like an angel of mist, out of nowhere, to turn solitude 
into something human, dropping like a gentle petal on the solitude 
of the place. The poet no longer felt alone. Suddenly a herd 
of swine also came into the area. There were four or five dark 
animals, half-wild pigs with a savage hunger and hoofs like 
rocks. Then Federico witnessed a blood-curdling scene: the swine 
fell on the lamb and, to the great horror of the poet, tore it to 
pieces and devoured it. 

This bloody scene in that lonely place made Federico take his 
touring company back on the road immediately. Three months 
before the civil war, when he told me this chilling story, Federico 
was still haunted by the horror of it. Later on I saw, more and 
more clearly, that the incident had been a vision of his own 
death, the premonition of his incredible tragedy. 

Federico Garcia Lorca was not merely shot; he was assassi- 
nated. It would never have crossed anyone’s mind that they 
would kill him one day. He was the most loved, the most cher- 
ished, of all Spanish poets, and he was the closest to being a child, 
because of his marvelous happy temperament. Who could have 
believed there were monsters on this earth, in his own Granada, 
capable of such an inconceivable crime? 

This criminal act was for me the most painful in the course of a 
long struggle. Spain was always a battleground of gladiators, a 
country where much blood has flowed. The bull ring, with its 
sacrifice and its cruel elegance, repeats— glamorized in a flamboy- 

Spain in My Heart 125 

ant spectacle— the age-old struggle to the death between darkness 
and light. 

The Inquisition incarcerated Fray Luis de Leon; Quevedo 
suffered torments in a dungeon; Columbus hobbled with irons on 
his ankles. And the great showplace was the charnel house of El 
Escorial, just as the Monument to the Fallen is today, with its 
cross standing over a million dead and numberless dark memories. 


Time passed. We were beginning to lose the war. The poets sided 
with the Spanish people: Federico had been murdered in Gra- 
nada. Miguel Hernandez had been transformed from a goatherd 
into a fighting word. In soldier’s uniform, he read his poems on 
the front lines. Manuel Altolaguirre kept his printing presses 
going. He set one up on the eastern front, near Gerona, in an old 
monastery. My book Espana en el corazon was printed there in a 
unique way. I believe few books, in the extraordinary history of 
so many books, have had such a curious birth and fate. 

The soldiers at the front learned to set type. But there was no 
paper. They found an old mill and decided to make it there. A 
strange mixture was concocted, between one falling bomb and the 
next, in the middle of the fighting. They threw everything they 
could get their hands on into the mill, from an enemy flag to a 
Moorish soldier’s bloodstained tunic. And in spite of the unusual 
materials used and the total inexperience of its manufacturers, the 
paper turned out to be very beautiful. The few copies of that book 
still in existence produce astonishment at its typography and at its 
mysteriously manufactured pages. Years later I saw a copy in the 
Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., displayed in a show- 
case as one of the rarest books of our time. 

My book had just been printed and bound when the Republic’s 
defeat was suddenly upon us. Hundreds of thousands of refugees 
glutted the roads leading out of Spain. It was the exodus, the most 
painful event in the history of that country. 

Among those lines of people going into exile were the survivors 
of the eastern front, and with them Manuel Altolaguirre and the 
soldiers who had made the paper and printed Espana en el cora- 
zon. My book was the pride of these men who had worked to 



bring out my poetry in the face of death. I learned that many 
carried copies of the book in their sacks, instead of their own food 
and clothing. With those sacks over their shoulders, they set out 
on the long march to France. 

The endless column walking to exile was bombed hundreds of 
times. Soldiers fell and the books were spilled on the highway. 
Others continued their interminable flight. On the other side of 
the border, the Spaniards who reached exile met with brutal treat- 
ment. The last copies of this impassioned book that was bom and 
perished in the midst of fierce fighting were immolated in a bon- 

Miguel Hernandez sought refuge in the Chilean Embassy, 
which during the war had granted asylum to four thousand 
Franco followers. Carlos Morla Lynch, the ambassador, claimed 
to be his friend but denied the great poet his protection. A few 
days after, he was arrested and thrown into prison. He died of 
tuberculosis in jail three years later. The nightingale could not 
survive in captivity. 

My consular duties had come to an end. Because I had taken 
part in the defense of the Spanish Republic, the Chilean govern- 
ment decided to remove me from my post. 


We reached Paris. I took an apartment together with Rafael 
Alberti and his wife, Maria Teresa Leon, on the Quai de l’Hor- 
loge, a quiet, marvelous neighborhood. From our place I could 
see the Pont-Neuf, the statue of Henri IV, and the fishermen 
dangling over the banks of the Seine. Nerval’s Place Dauphine, 
with its smell of leaves and restaurants, was behind us. The 
“French” writer Alejo Carpentier, one of the most uncommitted 
men I have known, lived there. He didn’t dare voice an opinion 
on anything, not even on the Nazis, who were about to fall upon 
Paris like famished wolves. 

From my balcony, to the right, I could make out the black 
towers of the Conciergerie. Its big gold clock was, for me, the 
neighborhood’s final boundary. 

In France then, and for many years after, I had the good fortune 
to count as dear friends the two foremost figures of her literature, 

Spain in My Heart 


Paul Eluard and Aragon. They were and are extraordinary classic 
examples of naturalness, with a vital authenticity that gives them a 
place in the most resonant part of the forest of France. At the 
same time, they are unshakable and intrinsic adherents of historical 
morality. Few human beings were as different from each other as 
these two. I often enjoyed the poetic pleasure of wasting time 
with Paul Eluard. If poets answered public-opinion polls truth- 
fully, they would give the secret away: there is nothing as beauti- 
ful as wasting time. Everyone has his own style for this pastime, 
as old as time itself. With Paul, I would lose all sense of the passing 
of day or night, and I never cared if what we were talking about 
was important or not. Aragon is an electronic machine of intelli- 
gence, learning, virulence, high-speed eloquence. I always left 
Eluard’s home smiling without even knowing why. I come out of 
a few hours spent with Aragon completely worn out, because this 
demon of a man has forced me to think. Both men have been my 
stalwart friends, and perhaps what attracts me most about them is 
the tremendous difference in the nature of their great talents. 


Nancy Cunard and I decided to put out a poetry review which I 
titled Les Poetes du Monde Dependent le Pen pie Espagnol ( The 
Poets of the World Defend the Spanish People). 

Nancy had a small printing press in her country house, in the 
French provinces. I don’t remember the name of the place, but it 
was far from Paris. When we got to her house, it was night and 
the moon was out. The snow and the moonlight fluttered like a 
curtain around the estate. I went for a walk, filled with excite- 
ment. On my way back, the snowflakes swirled around my head 
with chilly insistence. I lost my bearings completely and had to 
grope my way through the whiteness of the night for half an 

Nancy had printing experience. During her close relationship 
with Aragon, she had published the translation of “The Hunting 
of the Snark” done by Aragon and herself. This Lewis Carroll 
poem is really untranslatable and only in Gongora, I believe, can 
we find a parallel to its insane mosaic. 

I started setting type for the first time and I am sure there has 



never been a worse typesetter. I printed p’s upside down and they 
turned into d’s through my typographical clumsiness. A line in 
which the word pdrpados (eyelids) appeared twice ended up 
with two dardapos. For years after, Nancy punished me by call- 
ing me that. “My dear Dardapo . . .” she would begin her letters 
from London. But it turned out to be an attractive publication 
and we managed to print six or seven issues. Besides militant poets 
like Gonzalez Tunon or Alberti, and some French ones, we pub- 
lished impassioned poems by W. H. Auden, Spender, etc. These 
English gentlemen will never know how much my lazy fingers 
suffered setting their poems. 

From time to time, poets would come over from England, 
friends of Nancy’s, dandies with a white flower in their lapel, 
who also wrote anti-Franco verses. In the history of the intellect 
there has not been a subject as fertile for poets as the Spanish war. 
The blood spilled in Spain was a magnet that sent shudders 
through the poetry of a great period. 

I don’t know if the publication was a success or not, because 
the war in Spain came to its disastrous end at this time and a 
second world war had its disastrous beginning. In spite of its 
magnitude, its immeasurable cruelty, and all the heroic blood it 
spilled, that war did not manage to grip the collective heart of 
poetry as the one in Spain had. 

A short time later I would have to leave Europe to return to 
my country. Nancy would also be going to Chile soon, with a 
bullfighter who then left her and the bulls in Santiago to set up a 
business in sausages and cold cuts. But my dear friend, who was 
a high-class snob, was not one to give up easily. In Chile she took a 
poet as her lover, a slovenly vagrant, a Chilean of Basque descent 
with some talent but no teeth. What’s more, Nancy’s new lover 
was a hopeless drunk and gave the aristocratic English woman 
nightly beatings that forced her to appear in public wearing enor- 
mous dark glasses. 

Quixotic, unalterable, fearless, and pathetic, Nancy was one of 
the strangest persons I have ever known. The sole heir to the 
Cunard Line, Nancy, daughter of Lady Cunard, had scandalized 
London in 1930 by running away with a black man, a musician in 
one of the first jazz bands imported by the Savoy Hotel. 

When Lady Cunard found her daughter’s bed empty and a 
letter proudly informing her of her black future, the noblewoman 

Spain in My Heart 


went to her lawyer and proceeded to cut her off without a cent. 
And that was how this young woman I met roaming the world had 
been disinherited from the British nobility. Her mother’s salons 
were frequented by George Moore (who, gossip had it, was 
Nancy’s real father), Sir Thomas Beecham, young Aldous Hux- 
ley, and the future Duke of Windsor, still Prince of Wales at the 

Nancy Cunard struck back. In December of the year in which 
her mother excommunicated her, the English aristocracy received 
as a Christmas present a pamphlet bound in red, entitled “Negro 
Man and White Ladyship.” I have never seen anything more 
vitriolic. It is as trenchant as Swift, in some passages. 

Her arguments in defense of blacks came down like clubs on 
the heads of Lady Cunard and English society. I recall that she 
said— I am quoting from memory, and her words were more elo- 
quent: “Suppose you, your white ladyship, or rather your people, 
had been kidnapped, beaten, and chained by a more powerful 
tribe and then shipped far from England to be sold as slaves, 
displayed as ludicrous specimens of human ugliness, forced to 
work under the whip and fed poorly. What would be left of your 
race? The blacks suffered all this violence and cruelty and much 
more besides. After centuries of suffering, however, they are still 
the best and most graceful athletes, and they have created a new 
music that is more universal than any other. Could you, and 
whites like you, have emerged victorious from so much iniquity? 
Who is better, then?” 

And so on, for thirty pages. 

Nancy was never able to live in England after that, and from 
then on, she embraced the cause of the persecuted black race. 
During the invasion of Ethiopia she went to Addis Ababa. Then 
she traveled to the United States to make common cause with the 
black boys of Scottsboro who were accused of infamous crimes 
they had not committed. The young blacks were sentenced by 
racist U.S. justice, and Nancy Cunard was deported by the demo- 
cratic North American police. 

My friend Nancy Cunard would die in 1969 in Paris. A sudden 
turn in her death agony made her go downstairs in the hotel 
elevator all but naked. There she collapsed on the floor and closed 
her lovely sky-blue eyes forever. 

She weighed thirty-five kilos at the time of her death. She was a 



mere skeleton. Her body had wasted away in a long battle against 
injustice in the world. Her reward was a life that became progres- 
sively lonelier, and a godforsaken death. 


The war in Spain was going from bad to worse, but the Spanish 
people’s spirit of resistance had captivated the whole world. Inter- 
national brigades were already fighting in Spain. I saw them arrive 
in Madrid, in 1936, in uniform. They were a magnificent group 
of people of different ages, coloring, hair. 

Now it was 1937 and we were in Paris, and the main thing was 
to organize an anti-Fascist congress of writers from all over the 
world. The congress would be held in Madrid. That’s when I 
began to know Aragon better. The first thing about him that 
surprised me was his incredible capacity for work and organiza- 
tion. He dictated all his letters, corrected and remembered them. 
Not even the slightest detail escaped him. He worked long, steady 
hours in our small office. Yet, as everyone knows, he writes thick 
volumes of prose, and his poetry is the most beautiful in the 
French language. I saw him correcting the galleys of translations 
he had done of Russian and English writers, and I saw him redo 
them right on the printer’s proofs. He is really an extraordinary 
man, and that’s when I began to appreciate that fact. 

I had been left without a consulship and consequently without 
a penny. I went to work, for four hundred (old) francs, in an 
organization for the defense of culture, managed by Aragon. 
Delia del Carril, my wife then and for many years to come, was 
reputed to be a rich landowner, but she was actually poorer than 
I. We lived in a dubious, run-down hotel whose first floor was 
reserved for transient couples that came and went. For months we 
ate very little and badly. But the congress of anti-Fascist writers 
became a reality. Priceless replies poured in from all over. One 
was from Yeats, Ireland’s national poet; another, from Selma 
Lagerlof, the notable Swedish w riter. They were both too old to 
travel to a beleaguered city like Madrid, which was being steadily 
pounded by bombs, but they rallied to the defense of the Spanish 

Spain in My Heart 13 1 

I have always considered myself a man of few qualifications, 
especially in practical matters or for high-minded missions. I 
stared openmouthed, therefore, when I received a bank draft 
from the Spanish government, for a considerable sum, to cover 
expenses for the congress, including fares for delegates from other 
continents. Dozens of writers were flocking to Paris. 

I was at a complete loss. What was I to do with the money? I 
decided to endorse the funds to the organization that was behind 
the congress. “I haven’t laid eyes on the money, and I wouldn’t 
know what to do with it, anyway,” I told Rafael Alberti, who 
was passing through Paris. 

“You’re a big fool,” Rafael said. “You’ve lost your consular 
post defending the Spanish cause, you’re walking around with 
holes in your shoes, and you won’t even set aside a few thousand 
francs for your work and your minimum needs.” 

I glanced at my shoes, and in fact they did have holes. Alberti 
made me a gift of a new pair. 

We were leaving for Madrid in a few hours, with all the dele- 
gates. Delia and Amparo Gonzalez Tunon and I were swamped 
with paperwork to clear the way for the writers who were plan- 
ning to attend. The French exit visas presented us with endless 
problems, so we practically took over the Paris police head- 
quarters, where the formal acknowledgments jocularly referred 
to as recipisse were issued. Sometimes we ourselves stamped the 
passports with that supreme French contrivance called tampon. 

Along with the Norwegians, the Italians, the Argentines, the 
poet Octavio Paz arrived from Mexico, after a thousand adven- 
tures and misadventures. I was proud of having brought him. He 
had published just one book, which I had received two months 
before and which seemed to contain genuine promise. No one 
knew him yet. 

My old friend Cesar Vallejo came to see me with a scowl on his 
face. He was angry because his wife, whom the rest of us found 
unbearable, had not been issued a ticket. I got one for her quickly. 
We gave it to Vallejo and he left, as surly as when he had come 
in. Something was bothering him and it took me several months to 
discover what it was. 

At the bottom of it was this: my countryman Vicente Hui- 
dobro had come to Paris to attend the congress. Huidobro and I 

had had a falling out and were not speaking. But he was a close 
friend of Vallejo’s and used his few days in Paris to fill my trust- 
ing friend’s head with stories about me. Everything was cleared 
up later in a heated conversation I had with Vallejo. 

Never had a train left Paris packed with so many writers. We 
recognized or ignored one another in the corridors. Some slept. 
Others chain-smoked. For many, Spain was both the enigma and 
the key to that moment of history. 

Vallejo and Huidobro were somewhere on the train. Andre 
Malraux stopped to talk to me for a moment, with his facial tics, 
his raincoat tossed over his shoulders. This time he was traveling 
alone. I had always seen him before with the flier Comiglion- 
Molinier, who was his right-hand man in his adventures through 
the skies of Spain: cities lost and discovered, or a vital delivery of 
planes to the Republic. 

1 remember that the train was held up a long time at the border. 
Apparently Huidobro had lost a suitcase. Everyone was occu- 
pied, or preoccupied, with the delay and no one was in a mood to 
listen to him. The Chilean poet picked the wrong moment to 
come looking for his bag out on the platform, where Malraux, the 
leader of the expedition, was. Nervous by nature, and with a lot 
of problems accumulating around him, Malraux was at the end of 
his tether. Maybe he didn’t know Huidobro by sight or by name. 
When he came up to complain about losing his suitcase, Malraux 
lost the little patience he had left. I heard him shout: “Is this the 
time to be pestering anyone? Get away! Je vous enmerde!" 

It’s too bad that I had to be the one to witness this incident 
which deflated the Chilean’s vanity. I wish I had been a thousand 
miles away at that moment. But life is fickle. I was the one person 
Huidobro detested on that train. And to make matters worse, I, 
his countryman, and not any of the hundred writers traveling 
with us, had to be the sole spectator of this incident. 

When we got underway again, with the night far advanced and 
the train rolling through the Spanish countryside, I thought of 
Huidobro, his suitcase, the unpleasant moment he had been 
through. So I said to some young Central American writers who 
had come to my compartment: “Go see Huidobro too, he must 
be alone and depressed.” 

They were back in twenty minutes, their faces beaming. Hui- 


Spain in My Heart 

dobro had said to them: “Don’t talk to me about the lost bag; 
that’s not important. What really matters is that although the 
universities of Chicago, Berlin, Copenhagen, and Prague have con- 
ferred honorary titles on me, the small university in the small 
country you come from insists on ignoring me. I haven’t even 
been asked to give a lecture on creationism.” 

My countryman the great poet was definitely a hopeless case. 

We finally reached Madrid. While the visitors were being wel- 
comed and assigned a place to stay, I decided to visit the home I 
had left almost a year before. My books and my things, every- 
thing had been left behind in it. It was an apartment in a building 
called the “House of Flowers,” near the entrance to the univer- 
sity campus. Franco’s advance lines had reached it and the block 
of apartments had changed hands several times. 

Miguel Hernandez, who was wearing his militia uniform and 
carrying his rifle, got a van to transport the books and the belong- 
ings I was most interested in taking with me. 

We went up to the fifth floor and opened the apartment door 
expectantly. Flak had knocked in the windows and chunks of the 
walls. The books had toppled off the shelves. It was impossible to 
find one’s way in the rubble. I searched for things haphazardly. 
Oddly enough, the most useless, superfluous things had vanished, 
carried off by invading or defending forces. The pots and pans, 
the sewing machine, the dishes were there: they were scattered all 
over, but they had survived, yet there was not a trace of my 
consul’s tail coat, my Polynesian masks, my Oriental knives. 

“War is as whimsical as dreams, Miguel.” 

Miguel found some manuscripts of mine somewhere among 
the strewn papers. That chaos was a final door closing on my life. 
I said to Miguel, “I don’t want to take anything with me.” 

“Nothing? Not even one book?” 

“Not even one book.” 

And we went back with the van empty. 


. . . My house was caught between the two fronts . . . On one 
side, Moors and Italians advanced . . . On the other, Madrid’s 
defenders advanced, fell back, or were halted ... The artillery 



had crashed through the walls ... The windows were smashed 
to smithereens . . . On the floor, among my books, I found 
shrapnel . . . But my masks were gone . . . Masks collected in 
Siam, Bali, Sumatra, the Malay Archipelago, Bandung . . . 
Gilded, ashen, tomato-red, with silver eyebrows, blue, demonic 
eyebrows, lost in thought, my masks had been my sole keepsakes 
from the Orient l had gone to alone that first time, which had 
received me with its odor of tea, dung, opium, sweat, the in- 
tens est jasmine, frangipani, fruit rotting in the streets . . . Those 
masks, a reminder of the purest dances, of the dancing before 
the temple . . . Wooden drops colored by myth, the resi- 
due of a mythology of flowers that sketched dreams in the air, 
customs, demons, mysteries alien to my American nature . . . 
And then . . . Perhaps the militiamen had leaned out the win- 
dows of my house between shots with the masks on to strike 
terror into the Moors . . . Many masks had been left there 
smashed, spattered with blood . . . Others had rolled down 
from my fifth-floor apartment, wrenched off by a bullet . . . 
Franco's advance lines had taken up their positions in front of 
them ... The horde of illiterate mercenaries had screeched past 
before them . . . Thirty masks of Asian gods rising from my 
house in their last dance, the dance of death ... A moment of 
respite . . . The positions had reversed ... I sat looking at the 
debris, the bloodstains on the mat ... And through the new 
windows, the gaping holes left by the gunfire ... I stared far 
off, beyond the campus, toward flatlands, toward ancient castles 
. . . Spain looked empty to me ... It looked as if my last 
guests had gone off forever . . . With masks or without, in the 
middle of the shooting and the war chants, the mad rejoicing, the 
incredible defense, death or life, all that was over for me .. . It 
was the last silence after the feasting . . . After the last feasting 
. . . With the masks that had gone, with the masks that had 
fallen, with those soldiers I had not invited in, Spain had gone for 
me . . . 



I Went Out to Look 
for the Fallen 


I received my activist’s card much later in Chile, when I en- 
rolled in the party officially, but I believe I had looked upon 
myself as a Communist during the war in Spain. Many things had 
contributed to my deep conviction. 

My contradictory friend, the Nietzschean poet Leon Felipe, 
was a very likable man whose most attractive quality was his anar- 
chist’s proclivity to indiscipline and his mocking rebelliousness. 
At the height of the civil war he fell easily for the blustery propa- 
ganda of FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation). He was often at 
the anarchist fronts, where he lectured on his theories and read his 
iconoclastic poems. These reflected an ideology that was vaguely 
libertarian, anti-clerical, capped with invocations and blasphemies. 
His words captivated the anarchist groups that blossomed like 
hothouse flowers in Madrid while the rest of the people were at 
the battlefront, which was coming closer and closer. These law- 
less groups had painted the trolleys and buses half red and half 
yellow. With their long hair and beards, wearing bullets strung 
into necklaces and bracelets, they played a leading role in Spain’s 
carnival of death. I saw several of them in symbolic leather shoes, 
half red and half black, which must have put the shoemakers to a 
lot of trouble. And don’t let anyone think it was all innocent 
show. They carried knives, revolvers, rifles, and carbines. Groups 



of them would park themselves at the main entrances of buildings, 
smoking and spitting, showing off their hardware. Their main 
concern was to collect rents from terrorized tenants or make 
them hand over their jewels, rings, and watches. 

Leon Felipe was on his way back from one of his pro-anarchist 
lectures late one night when we ran into each other at the cafe on 
the corner of my block. The poet was wearing a Spanish cape 
that went very well with his Nazarene beard. On the way out, 
the elegant folds of his romantic attire brushed against one of his 
touchy co-religionists. I don’t know if Leon Felipe’s bearing, that 
of an old-time hidalgo, annoyed that “hero” of the rear guard, 
but I do know that we were stopped a few steps farther on by a 
bunch of anarchists headed by the man who had considered him- 
self offended at the cafe. They wanted to check our papers, and 
after they had glanced at them, the Spanish poet was taken away 
between two armed men. 

As he was being led off to a place of execution near my house, 
where firing squads often kept me awake at night, I saw two 
armed militiamen coming back from the front. I explained who 
Leon Felipe was, the offense he had been accused of, and was able 
to obtain my friend’s release thanks to them. 

This ideological chaos and gratuitous destruction gave me a lot 
to think about. I heard of the exploits of an Austrian anarchist, an 
old, nearsighted man with a long blond mane, whose specialty 
was taking people “for a walk.” He had formed a squad which he 
dubbed “Dawn” because it went into action at daybreak. 

“Haven’t you ever had a headache?” he would ask his victim. 

“Yes, of course, sometimes.” 

“Well, I’m going to administer an excellent painkiller,” the 
Austrian would say, pointing his revolver at the other’s forehead 
and pulling the trigger. 

Gangs like these roamed Madrid’s pitch-black nights. The 
Communists were the only organized group and had put together 
an army to confront Italians, Germans, Moors, and Falangists. 
They were also the moral force that kept the resistance and the 
anti-Fascist struggle going. 

It boiled down to this: you had to pick the road you would 
take. That is what I did and I have never had reason to regret the 
choice I made between darkness and hope in that tragic time. 

I Went Out to Look for the Fallen 



Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as 
flour goes into the making of bread. 

Arsonists, warmongers, wolves hunt down the poet to bum, 
kill, sink their teeth into him. A swordsman left Pushkin mortally 
wounded under the trees in a dark and gloomy park. The fiery 
horses of war charged over Petofi’s lifeless body. Byron died in 
Greece, fighting against war. The Spanish Fascists started off the 
war in Spain by assassinating its greatest poet. 

Rafael Alberti is a kind of survivor. He was marked for death a 
thousand times. One of those times, in Granada, like Lorca. An- 
other time death waited for him in Badajoz. They looked for him 
in sun-drenched Seville and in Cadiz and Puerto de Santa Maria 
in his home province, to kill him, to hang him, and so deal poetry 
another death blow. 

But poetry has not died, it has a cat’s nine lives. They harass it, 
they drag it through the streets, they spit on it and make it the 
butt of their jokes, they try to strangle it, drive it into exile, 
throw it into prison, pump lead into it, and it survives every 
attempt with a clear face and a smile as bright as grains of rice. 

I knew Alberti when he walked through the streets of Madrid 
in a blue shirt and a red tie. I knew him fighting in the ranks of 
the people when not too many poets were following that difficult 
course. The bells had not yet tolled for Spain, but he knew what 
might be coming. He is a man from the south, bom near the 
singing sea and cellars filled with wine as golden yellow as topaz. 
There his heart took fire from the grape and song from the wave. 
He was always a poet, but he himself did not know this in his 
early years. Later all Spain would know it, and still later, the 

For those of us who have the good fortune to speak and 
know the language of Castile, Rafael Alberti embodies all the re- 
splendent qualities of Spanish poetry. He is not only a born poet 
but also a master craftsman. Like a red rose blooming miraculously 
in winter, his poetry contains a flake of Gongora’s snow, a root 
from Jorge Manrique, a petal from Garcilaso, a fragrance of 
mourning from Gustavo Adolfo Becquer. The true essences of 
Spanish poetry come together in his crystalline wineglass. 


His red rose threw its brilliance over the road for those who 
tried to stop Fascism in Spain. The world knows this heroic and 
tragic story. Alberti wrote epic sonnets, he read them in barracks 
and at the front, and he invented poetry’s guerrilla warfare, 
poetry’s war against war. He invented songs that grew wings 
under the thunder of artillery fire, songs that later soared over the 
entire planet. 

A consummate poet, he showed how useful poetry could be at 
a moment that was critical for the whole world. In this, he resem- 
bles Mayakovsky. This application of poetry for the benefit of 
the majority is based on strength, tenderness, joy, on man’s true 
nature. Without it, poetry gives off sound, but it doesn’t sing. 
Alberti’s poems always sing. 


Once again I returned to my country, third class. In Latin 
America there were no eminent writers, like Celine, Drieu La 
Rochelle, or Ezra Pound, who turned traitor to serve Fascism, but 
there was a strong Fascist movement nurtured, with or without 
financial aid, by Hitlerism. Groups sprang up everywhere whose 
members dressed like storm troopers and raised their arm in the 
Fascist salute. And they weren’t just small groups. The old feudal 
oligarchies of the continent sided, and still side, with anti-Com- 
munism of any kind, whether it came from Germany or the creole 
ultra-left. What’s more, let’s remember that people of German 
descent make up the bulk of the population in some parts of 
Chile, Brazil, and Mexico. Those areas were easily seduced by 
Hitler’s meteoric rise and by the fabled millennium of German 

More than once, in those days of Hitler’s resounding victories, 
I literally had to walk through a street, in some small village or 
town in the south of Chile, under forests of flags bearing the 
swastika. Once, in a small southern town, I was forced to pay an 
involuntary tribute to the Fiihrer in order to use the telephone. 
The German owner of the establishment which had the only 
telephone in town had managed to place the instrument so that, to 
take the receiver off the hook, you had to raise your arm to a 
portrait of Hitler, whose arm was also raised. 

I was editor of the magazine Aurora de Chile. All its literary 


x 39 

1 Went Out to Look for the Fallen 

weapons (we had no others) were aimed at the Nazis, who were 
swallowing country after country. Hitler’s ambassador to Chile 
donated books, by authors of the so-called neo-German culture, 
to the National Library. We countered by asking our readers to 
send us German books that were faithful to the real Germany, the 
Germany banned by Hitler. It was a momentous experience. I 
received death threats. And many neatly wrapped packages ar- 
rived with books smeared with filth. We also received whole col- 
lections of Der Stiirmer, a pornographic periodical that was 
sadistic and anti-Semitic, edited by Julius Streicher, deservedly 
hanged in Nuremberg years later. German-language editions of 
Heinrich Heine, Thomas Mann, Anna Seghers, Einstein, Arnold 
Zweig, also trickled in. And when we had nearly five hundred 
volumes, we took them to the National Library. 

We were in for a surprise. The National Library had pad- 
locked its doors to us. 

Then we organized a march and entered the university’s hall of 
honor carrying pictures of the Reverend Niemoeller and Carl von 
Ossietzky. Some kind of ceremonial act was taking place, presided 
over by Don Miguel Cruchaga Tocornal, the Foreign Minister. 
We set the books and portraits down carefully on the speaker’s 
dais. The battle was won. The books were accepted. 


I made up my mind to throw myself into my writing with more 
devotion and energy. My visit to Spain had given me added 
strength and maturity. The bitterness in my poetry had to end. 
The brooding subjectivity of my Veinte poemas de amor, the 
painful moodiness of my Residencia en la tierra, were coming to a 
close. In them, I now believed, I had struck a vein, not in rocks 
underground, but in the pages of books. Can poetry serve our 
fellow men? Can it find a place in man’s struggles? I had already 
done enough tramping over the irrational and the negative. I 
had to pause and find the road to humanism, outlawed from con- 
temporary literature but deeply rooted in the aspirations of 

I started work on my Canto general. 

For this, I needed a place to work. I found a stone house facing 
the ocean, in a place nobody knew about, Isla Negra. Its owner, a 



Spanish socialist of long standing, a sea captain, Don Eladio 
Sobrino, was building it for his family but agreed to sell it to me. 
How could I buy it? I submitted a projected Canto general, but it 
was turned down by Editorial Ercilla, my publisher at the time. 
In 1939, with the help of another publisher, who reimbursed the 
owner of the house directly, I was finally able to get my house on 
Isla Negra to work in. 

I felt a pressing need to write a central poem that would bring 
together the historical events, the geographical situations, the life 
and struggles of our peoples. Isla Negra’s wild coastal strip, 
with its turbulent ocean, was the place to give myself passionately 
to the writing of my new song. 


But life wrested me away almost at once. 

The chilling news of the Spanish exodus reached Chile. More 
than five hundred thousand men and women, combatants and 
civilians, had crossed the French border. In France, under pres- 
sure from reactionary forces, Leon Blum’s government herded 
them into concentration camps, dispersed them to fortresses and 
prisons, massed them together in its African possessions near the 

In Chile the government had changed. The vicissitudes of the 
Spanish people had brought fresh strength to Chile’s popular 
forces and we had a progressive government now. 

Chile’s Popular Front government decided to send me to 
France on the noblest mission I have ever undertaken: to get 
Spaniards out of their French prisons and send them to my coun- 
try. And so, like a radiant light from America, my poetry would 
spread among throngs of human beings burdened with suffering 
and heroic like no other people. My poetry would become one 
with material assistance from America, which, by taking in the 
Spaniards, would be paying an age-old debt. 

Virtually an invalid, just recovering from an operation and 
with one leg in a cast— such was my health at the time— I left my 
haven and went to see the President of the Republic. Don Pedro 
Aguirre Cerda received me warmly. “Yes, bring me thousands of 
Spaniards. We have work for all of them. Bring me fishermen; 
bring me Basques, Castilians, people from Extremadura.” 

I Went Out to Look for the Fallen 141 

A few days later I left for France, still in my cast, to fetch 
Spaniards to Chile. I had a specific mission. My appointment 
papers stated that I was consul in charge of the immigration of the 
Spaniards. I showed up at the Chilean Embassy in Paris flashing 
my credentials. 

My country’s government and political situation were not what 
they had been, but the Embassy in Paris was still the same. The 
idea of sending Spaniards to Chile infuriated our smartly dressed 
diplomats. They set me up in an office next to the kitchen, they 
harassed me in every way they could, even going so far as to deny 
me writing paper. The wave of undesirables was already beginning 
to reach the doors of the Embassy: wounded veterans, jurists and 
writers, professionals who had lost their practice, all kinds of 
skilled workers. 

They had to make their way against hell and high water to get 
to my office, and since it was on the fourth floor, our Embassy 
people thought up a fiendish scheme: they cut off elevator ser- 
vice. Many of the Spaniards had war wounds and were survivors 
of the African concentration camps; it broke my heart to see 
them come up to the fourth floor with such painful effort, while 
the cruel officials gloated over my difficulties. 


To complicate my life, the Popular Front government sent me 
word of the arrival of a charge d’affaires. This made me very 
happy, because a new department head at the Embassy would be 
able to rid me of the many stumbling blocks the old diplomatic 
personnel had put in my way to impede the immigration of the 
Spaniards. A slender youngster with a pince-nez that gave him the 
air of an old bookworm came out of the Gare Saint-Lazare. He 
must have been twenty-four or twenty-five. In a high-pitched, 
effeminate voice broken by emotion, he told me that he accepted 
me as his boss and that the sole purpose of his coming was to act 
as my helper in the great task of sending to Chile “the glorious 
vanquished of the war.” My satisfaction at having a new assistant 
continued, but this character made me uncomfortable. In spite of 
the adulation and excessive attention he lavished on me, something 
about him did not ring true. I found out later that, with the 
triumph of the Popular Front in Chile, he had done an abrupt 

■ 4 2 


about-face, leaving the Knights of Columbus, that Jesuit organiza- 
tion, to become a member of the Communist youth movement, 
which was avidly recruiting members and was delighted with his 
intellectual qualifications. Arellano Marin wrote plays and arti- 
cles, was an erudite lecturer, and seemed to know everything. 

World War II was almost upon us. Paris waited every night 
for the German bombings, and every home had instructions on 
how to protect itself from the aerial attacks. I went home to 
Villennes-sur-Seine every evening, to a small house facing the 
river, which I left with a heavy heart every morning to return to 
the Embassy. 

Within a few days the new arrival, Arellano Marin, had as- 
sumed an importance I had never attained. I had introduced him 
to Negrin, Alvarez del Vayo, and a few leaders of the Spanish 
parties. A week later the new functionary was on familiar terms 
with almost all of them. Spanish leaders whom I didn’t know 
went in and out of his office. Their extensive conversations were a 
mystery to me. From time to time he called me over to show me a 
diamond or an emerald he had bought for his mother, or to con- 
fide in me about a very cute blonde who made him spend more 
than he should in the Paris cabarets. Arellano Marin became a 
dose friend of the Aragons, especially of Elsa, when the Embassy 
took them in to protect them from anti-Communist repression; 
he regaled them with attentions and little presents. This person’s 
psychology must have intrigued Elsa Triolet, for she mentions 
him in one or two of her novels. 

I gradually realized that his greed for luxury and wealth was 
growing before my very eyes, which have never been too wide 
awake. He slipped easily from one make of automobile to another 
and rented luxurious homes. And each day the cute blonde seemed 
to be driving him more and more out of his mind with her 

I had to go to Brussels to attend to a critical problem involving 
the emigrants. As I was leaving the unpretentious hotel where I 
was staying, I literally ran into my new assistant, the elegant Arel- 
lano Marin. He made a loud fuss over me and invited me to dine 
that same day. 

We met at his hotel, the most expensive in Brussels. He had had 
orchids placed on our table. Naturally, he ordered caviar and 
champagne. During the meal I was silent and preoccupied, listen- 


/ Went Out to Look for the Fallen 

ing to my host rave on about his lavish plans, his upcoming plea- 
sure trips, the jewels he had bought. I was listening, 1 felt, to a 
nouveau riche with certain symptoms of insanity; his penetrating 
eyes, his cocksure pronouncements— all of it made me sick. I de- 
cided to take a drastic step and tell him openly what was on my 
mind. I suggested that we have coffee in his room, because I had 
something to say to him. 

As we were on our way upstairs, two strangers walked up to 
him at the foot of the grand staircase. He told them in Spanish to 
wait for him, he would be down in a few minutes. 

Once we were in his room, I thought no more about the coffee. 
Ours was a strained conversation. “I believe you’re heading down 
the wrong road,” I said to him. “You are becoming money-mad. 
Maybe you’re still too young to understand this, but our political 
obligations are a very serious matter. The fate of thousands of 
immigrants is in our hands, and this can’t be taken lightly. I don’t 
want to know anything about your affairs, but I do want to give 
you a piece of advice. There are a lot of people who say, at the 
end of an unhappy life: ‘Nobody gave me advice, nobody 
warned me.’ That’s something you won’t be able to say. I’ve 
made my speech. And now I am leaving.” 

I looked at him as I said goodbye. Tears rolled down his eyes to 
his mouth. I could have bitten my tongue. Had I gone too far? I 
went to him and put my hand on his shoulder. “Don’t cry! ” 

“It’s just that I’m furious,” he said. 

I left without another word. I returned to Paris and never saw 
him again. When they saw me coming down, the two strangers 
who had been waiting for him hurried up to his room. 

The conclusion of this story came much later, in Mexico, when 
I was Chilean Consul General there. One day I was invited to 
lunch by a group of Spanish refugees and two of them recog- 
nized me. 

“Where do you know me from?” I asked. 

“We are the two fellows who went up to speak to your coun- 
tryman, Arellano Marin, when you came down from his room in 

“Oh, and what happened then? I’ve always been curious about 

They told me something extraordinary. They had found him 
swimming in tears, hysterical, and he had sobbed out: “I’ve just 



had the biggest shock of my life. Neruda has gone to turn you in 
to the Gestapo as dangerous Spanish Communists. I couldn’t talk 
him into waiting even a few hours. You have only minutes to get 
away. Leave your suitcases with me, I’ll watch them for you and 
send them on later.” 

“The bastard!” I exclaimed. “Thank heavens you managed to 
escape from the Germans, anyway.” 

“Yes, but the suitcases contained ninety thousand dollars that 
belonged to the Spanish workers’ unions, and we never set eyes 
on that money again.” 

Still later, I heard that this diabolical character had made an 
extended pleasure tour of the Near East with his Parisian lover. 
Incidentally, the cute blonde who had been so demanding turned 
out to be a blond male student from the Sorbonne. 

Sometime afterward, his resignation from the Communist Party 
made news in Chile. “Strong ideological differences compel 
me to make this decision,” he said in his letter to the newspapers. 


Each man who emerged from the defeat or from captivity was a 
novel with chapters, tears, laughter, loneliness, and idyls. Some of 
these stories really amazed me. 

I met an air-force general, tall and lean, a military-academy 
man with all kinds of titles. There he was, roaming the Paris 
streets, a quixotic shadow from the Spanish soil, old and straight 
as the poplars of Castile. When Franco’s army split the Republi- 
can zone in two, this general, Herrera, had to go the rounds in 
pitch darkness, inspect defenses, give orders right and left. On the 
blackest nights, he flew his airplane, with all its lights out, over 
enemy territory. Every now and again, gunfire from the Franco 
side barely missed his craft. But the general became bored with 
flying in the dark. So he learned Braille. Once he had mastered 
this writing for the blind, he went on his dangerous missions read- 
ing with his fingers, while below him the fire and the pain of the 
civil war raged on. The general told me that he had read The 
Count of Monte Cristo and was just getting into The Three 
Musketeers, when his night reading in Braille was interrupted by 
defeat and exile. 


I Went Out to Look for the Fallen 

Another story I recall with deep feeling is the story of the 
Andalusian poet Pedro Garfias, who ended up in exile in Scotland 
at the castie of some lord. The castle was always empty, and 
Garfias, a restless Andalusian, went to the local tavern every 
day; speaking no English, only a gypsy Spanish that even I could 
not always understand, he drank his solitary beer in silence. This 
wordless customer attracted the tavernkeeper’s interest, and one 
night, when the other drinkers had left, the tavernkeeper begged 
him to stay and they went on drinking silently next to the hearth, 
whose fire sputtered, doing the talking for the two of them. 

This invitation became a ritual. Each night, Garfias was wel- 
comed by the bartender, lonely like him, with no wife or 
family. Little by little their tongues loosened up. Garfias told him 
about the Spanish war, with exclamations, oaths, and curses that 
were typically Andalusian. The other man listened in religious 
silence, not understanding a word, of course. 

The Scotsman, in turn, poured out his miseries, probably the 
story of a wife who had deserted him, the exploits of his sons, 
whose pictures in military uniform decorated the fireplace. I say 
“probably,” because during the long months that these strange 
conversations lasted, Garfias did not understand a word either. 

Still, the bond of fellowship grew stronger and stronger be- 
tween the two lonely men, each speaking with deep feeling about 
his own affairs in his own language, inaccessible to the other. 
Seeing each other every night and talking into the small hours 
became a necessity for both. 

When Garfias had to leave for Mexico, they said goodbye, 
drinking and talking, embracing and weeping. The feeling that 
bound them so deeply was the sundering of their two solitudes. 

“Pedro,” I often said to the poet, “what do you think he was 
telling you?” 

“I never understood a word, Pablo, but when I listened to him I 
always felt, I was always sure, that I knew what he meant. And 
when I talked, I was sure that he also knew what I meant.” 


One morning when I got to the Embassy, I was handed a pretty 
long cable by the officials. Everyone was smiling, which was odd, 

since they no longer even greeted me. There had to be something 
in the message that delighted them. 

It was a cable from Chile, signed by the President himself, Don 
Pedro Aguirre Cerda, from whom I had received clear instruc- 
tions to put the Spanish exiles on a ship bound for Chile. 

I was shocked to read that our good President, Don Pedro, had 
learned that very morning, much to his surprise, that I was ar- 
ranging for the Spanish emigrants to go to Chile. He asked me to 
deny this outlandish news immediately. 

What was outlandish to me was the President’s cable. The job 
of organizing, screening, selecting the immigrants had been hard, 
lonely work. Fortunately, Spain’s government-in-exile had under- 
stood the importance of my mission. Yet new and unexpected 
obstacles presented themselves daily. Meanwhile, hundreds of 
refugees were leaving or preparing to leave the concentration 
camps in France and Africa, where thousands of them were 
crowded together, and go to Chile. 

The Republican government-in-exile had succeeded in buying 
a ship, the Winnipeg. It had been converted to increase its pas- 
senger capacity and was waiting, tied up at the pier at Trompe- 
loup, a little port near Bordeaux. 

What should I do? This time-consuming and vital work, on the 
brink of the Second World War, was the crowning point of my 
life. The hand I held out to the persecuted meant their salvation, 
and showed them the true nature of my country, which wel- 
comed and championed them. The President’s cable was about to 
collapse all these dreams. 

I decided to talk things over with Negrin. I had had the good 
luck to make friends with President Juan Negrin, Minister Al- 
varez del Vayo, and some of the other members of the Spanish 
Republican government. Negrin was the most interesting. Spanish 
high politics had always seemed to me a bit parochial, provincial, 
shortsighted. Negrin was cosmopolitan, or European, anyway. 
He had studied in Leipzig and had university standing. In Paris he 
kept alive, with all dignity, the flimsy shadow that a government- 
in-exile is. 

We talked. I explained the situation, the President’s strange 
cable, which in fact made me look like an impostor, a charlatan 
offering a people in exile a pipe-dream asylum. There were three 
possible ways out. The first, a revolting one, was simply to an- 


/ Went Out to Look for the Fallen 

nounce that the immigration of Spaniards to Chile had been called 
off. The second, a dramatic one, was to air publicly my objec- 
tions, consider my mission ended, and put a bullet through my 
head. The third, a defiant one, was to fill the ship with immi- 
grants, go aboard with them, and set out for Valparaiso without 
authorization, come what may. 

Negrin leaned back in his armchair, puffing on his huge cigar. 
Then a melancholy smile crossed his lips and he said: “Can’t you 
use the telephone?” 

In those days, telephone communication between Europe and 
America was intolerably difficult, with hours of waiting. Between 
deafening noises and abrupt interruptions, I managed to hear the 
Foreign Minister’s voice far away. In a broken conversation, with 
phrases having to be repeated twenty times, without knowing 
whether we were getting through to each other, screaming our 
heads off and hearing only the ocean’s trumpet blasts in reply, I 
thought I made it clear to Minister Ortega that I wasn’t obeying 
the President’s countermand. I also felt sure I had heard him ask 
me to wait until the following day. 

Naturally, I spent a troubled night in my tiny Paris hotel. The 
next afternoon, I learned that the Foreign Minister had resigned 
that morning. He would not accept the withdrawal of my au- 
thority, either. The Cabinet tottered, and our fine President, after 
a temporary disruption due to pressures beyond his control, re- 
covered his authority. I received a fresh cable with instructions 
to go ahead with the immigration. 

We finally put them aboard the Winnipeg. Husbands and 
wives, parents and children, who had been separated for a long 
time and were coming from one or the other end of Europe or 
Africa were reunited at the embarkation point. The waiting 
crowd surged forward as each train came in. Rushing up and 
down, weeping and shouting, they would recognize their dear 
ones among those putting their heads out the windows in clusters. 
Everyone eventually got aboard ship. There were fishermen, 
peasants, laborers, intellectuals, a cross section of strength, hero- 
ism, and hard work. My poetry, in its struggle, had succeeded 
in finding them a country. And I was filled with pride. 

I bought a newspaper. I was strolling down a street in Villennes- 
sur-Seine. I was passing by the ancient castle whose ruins, scarlet 
with vines, lifted small slate towers skyward. That ancient castle 

4 8 


where Ronsard and the Pleiade poets met centuries ago captured 
my imagination with its stone and marble, its hendecasyllables set 
down in ancient gold characters. I opened the newspaper. The 
Second World War had broken out that day. The newspaper 
which my hands dropped in that old, lost village said so in bold 
characters in smudgy black ink. 

Everyone had been expecting it. Hitler had been gobbling up 
territories, while English and French statesmen scurried with 
their umbrellas to offer him more cities, kingdoms, human beings. 

A great smoke drift of confusion filled people’s consciences. 
From my window in Paris I looked out on Les Invalides and I saw 
the first contingents leaving, youngsters who had not yet learned 
how to wear their soldier’s uniforms but were marching straight 
into death’s gaping mouth. 

Their going was sad, and nothing could disguise that. It was 
like a war lost beforehand, something inexpressible. Chauvinist 
groups prowled the streets, hunting down progressive intellec- 
tuals. To them, the enemy was not Hitler’s disciples, the Lavals, 
but the flower of French thought. At the Embassy, which had 
undergone a significant change, we received the great poet Louis 
Aragon. He spent four days there, writing day and night, while 
the hordes searched for him to take his life. In the Chilean Em- 
bassy he finished his novel Passengers of Destiny. The fifth day, 
he left for the front, in uniform. It was his second war against the 

In those twilight days, I grew accustomed to the European lack 
of resolve, which does not permit continual revolutions or earth- 
quakes yet allows the deadly poison of war to permeate the air we 
breathe and the bread we eat. In constant fear of bombings, the 
great metropolis blacked out every night, and this darkness shared 
by seven million people, a thick darkness in the heart of the city 
of light, still clings to my memory. 

At the end of this era, l am alone once more in newly dis- 
covered lands, as if this whole long voyage had been a waste. 1 go 
into an agony, into a second solitude, just as in the throes of birth, 
in the alarming beginning, filled with the metaphysical terror from 
which the spring of my early poems flowed, in the new twilight 


/ Went Out to Look for the Fallen 

my own creation has provoked. Where am 1 to go? Which way 
should I return, aim for, which way to silence or a breathing 
space? I turn the light and the darkness upside down and inside 
out, and l find nothing but the emptiness my hands built with 
such deadly care. 

And yet what has always been closest to me, the most funda- 
mental, the most extensive, the completely unexpected, would 
appear in my path for the first time now. 1 had thought hard 
about all the world, but not about man. Cruelly and painfully, I 
had probed man's heart; without a thought for mankind, l had seen 
cities, but empty cities; 1 had seen factories whose very presence 
was a tragedy, but 1 had not really seen the suffering under those 
roofs, on the streets, at every way station, in the cities and the 

As the first bullets ripped into the guitars of Spain, when blood 
instead of music gushed out of them, my poetry stopped dead like 
a ghost in the streets of human anguish and a rush of roots and 
blood surged up through it. From then on, my road meets every- 
man's road. And suddenly 1 see that from the south of solitude l 
have moved to the north, which is the people, the people whose 
sword, whose handkerchief my humble poetry wants to be, to 
dry the sweat of its vast sorrows and give it a weapon in its 
struggle for bread. 

Then space opens out, makes itself deep and permanent. We 
are now standing squarely on the earth. We want to take infinite 
possession of everything that exists. We are not looking for any 
mystery, we are the mystery. My poetry is becoming a material 
part of an atmosphere that extends infinitely, that runs under the 
sea and under the earth both, it begins to enter galleries of star- 
tling vegetation, to speak in broad daylight with the specters of 
the sun, to explore pits of minerals hidden deep in the secretive 
earth, to establish forgotten links between autumn and man. The 
air dims and at intervals thunderbolts of phosphorescence and 
terror light it up; a new structure that is far from the evident, 
from trite words, looms on the horizon; a new continent rises from 
the innermost substance of my poetry. I have spent years settling 
these lands, classifying this kingdom, touching its many mysteri- 
ous shorelines, soothing its foam, going over its zoology and the 
length of its geography; in this / have spent dark, solitary, remote 


Mexico , Blossoming and Thorny 

M y government sent me to Mexico. Oppressed to the break- 
ing point by the memory of so many painful experiences 
and such chaos, in 1940 I came to the Anahuac plateau, to breathe 
what Alfonso Reyes hailed as the most transparent region of the 

Mexico with its prickly pear and its serpent; Mexico blossom- 
ing and thorny, dry and lashed by hurricane winds, violent in 
outline and color, violent in eruption and creation, surrounded me 
with its magic and its extraordinary light. 

I traveled through it for years, from market to market. Because 
Mexico is to be found in its markets. Not in the guttural songs of 
the movies or in the false image of the Mexican in sombrero, with 
moustache and pistol. Mexico is a land of crimson and phosphor- 
escent turquoise shawls. Mexico is a land of earthen bowls and 
pitchers, and fruit lying open to a swarm of insects. Mexico is an 
infinite countryside of steel-blue century plants with yellow 

The most beautiful markets in the world have all this to offer. 
Fruit and wool, clay and weaving looms, give evidence of the 
incredible skill of the fertile and timeless fingers of the Mexicans. 

I drifted through Mexico, I roamed over all its coasts, along its 
steep coastlines set ablaze by uninterrupted flares of shimmering 
lightning. I came down from Topolobampo in Sinaloa, past names 
indigenous to this hemisphere, harsh names willed to Mexico by 
the gods, when men less cruel than those gods came to rule its 
lands. I traveled through all those mysterious and majestic syl- 


Mexico, Blossoming and T homy 1 5 1 

lables from the dawn of time. Sonora and Yucatan; Anahuac, 
rising like a cold brazier that draws to itself the mixed aromas of 
the land, from Nayarit to Michoacan, from where you can make 
out smoke from the islet of Janitzio, and the odor of com and 
maguey drifting up from Jalisco, and sulphur from the new vol- 
cano, Paricutin, blending in with the wet fragrance of fish from 
Lake Patzcuaro. Mexico, the last of the magic countries, because 
of its age and its history, its music and its geography. Working 
my way like a tramp over those rocks forever scourged by blood, 
rocks crisscrossed by a wide ribbon of blood and moss, I felt 
mighty and ancient, worthy to walk among such timeless things. 
Abrupt valleys partitioned off by immense walls of rock; tall hills 
that looked as if cut level with a knife; immense tropical forests 
teeming with timber and serpents, birds and legends. In that vast 
land made habitable as far as the eye can see by man’s struggle 
through the ages, in its huge spaces, I found that we, Chile and 
Mexico, are the two countries most unlike each other in all 
America. I have never been moved by the conventional niceties of 
protocol that lead the ambassador of Japan, looking at Chile’s 
cherry trees, to find that we are alike; or the Englishman experi- 
encing the fog along our coast, or the Argentine or German see- 
ing our snow, to find that we are much like all other countries. I 
delight in the diversity of landscapes on this planet, the varied 
products of the earth in every latitude. I don’t mean to detract in 
any way from Mexico, a place I love, by describing it as not even 
remotely resembling our ocean-washed and grain-rich land. I 
only hold up its differences so that our America may be seen on 
all its levels, its great heights, and its depths. And in America, 
perhaps on the whole planet, no country is more profoundly hu- 
man than Mexico and its people. In its brilliant achievements, as 
well as its gigantic errors, one sees the same chain of grand gener- 
osity, deep-rooted vitality, inexhaustible history, and limitless 

We made a turnoff one day— into fishing villages whose nets 
are so diaphanous they look like huge butterflies returning to the 
waters to pick up the silver scales they are missing; through min- 
ing centers whose metal turns from hard ingot to resplendent 
geometric forms almost as soon as it is out of the depths; over 
roads where Catholic convents loom, thick and thorny like giant 
cactus plants; through markets where the rich colors and flavors 

« 5 2 


of vegetables displayed like flowers make you dizzy— and cross- 
ing Mexico like this, we reached Yucatan, the submerged cradle 
of the oldest race in the world, the idolatrous Maya. There the 
earth has been shaken by history and by the germinating seed. 
Side by side with the century plant, the ruins steeped in human 
intelligence and sacrifices are still growing. 

Having crossed the last roads, we come to the vast territory 
where the ancient peoples of Mexico left their embroidered his- 
tory hidden away in the jungle. There we find a new water, the 
most mysterious water on earth. It is not sea, stream, river, or any 
of the waters we know. In Yucatan the water is all under the 
ground, which may crack open suddenly, producing enormous 
jungle pools whose sides, overgrown with tropical vegetation, 
leave open to view, down below, a very deep water, deep as the 
sky, and green. The Mayas discovered those fissures in the earth 
called cenotes and deified them with their strange rites. Like all 
religions, in the beginning theirs consecrated necessity and fertil- 
ity, and the land’s aridity was vanquished by those hidden waters, 
for which the earth had opened. 

Then for thousands of years on the rims of the sacred pools, 
first the indigenous and then the invaders’ religion increased the 
mystery of the waters. From the banks of the cenote, after 
nuptial ceremonies, hundreds of virgins decked with flowers and 
gold and laden with jewels were hurled into the whirling, bottom- 
less waters. Garlands and golden crowns would float up from the 
depths to the surface, but the maidens stayed in the mud of the 
bottom, held fast by their gold chains. 

Thousands of years later, only a tiny portion of the jewels has 
been recovered and they are in the display cases of Mexican and 
U.S. museums. I went into that wilderness, not in search of gold, 
but seeking the cries of the drowned maidens. In the shrieks of the 
birds I seemed to hear the hoarse anguish of the virgins; and in 
their swift flight, as they swept over the gloomy deeps of the 
timeless waters, I saw the yellow hands of the dead young girls. 

Once I watched a dove light on a statue that stretches its bright 
stone hand over the eternal waters and the air. An eagle may have 
been after it. It did not belong in that place whose only birds— 
the roadrunner with its stammer, the quetzal with its fabulous 
plumes, the turquoise hummingbird, and the birds of prey— con- 
quered the jungle for their rapine, for their splendor. The dove 


Mexico, Blossoming and Thorny 

lighted on the statue’s hand, like a white snowflake among tropi- 
cal rocks. I gazed at her because she came from another world, 
from a measured and harmonious world, from a Pythagorean col- 
umn or a Mediterranean round number. She had stopped on the 
edge of the darkness, she respected my silence, for I had become 
part of this original American, blood-stained, ancient world, 
and my eyes followed her flight until they lost her in the sky. 


Mexico’s intellectual life was dominated by painting. Mexican 
painters covered the city with history and geography, with civil 
strife, with fierce controversies. Jose Qemente Orozco, lean, 
one-armed titan, has his place on an elevated peak, a sort of Goya 
in his phantasmagorical country. I talked to him often. The vio- 
lence that haunted his work seemed alien to his personality. He 
had the gentleness of a potter who has lost his hand at the potter’s 
wheel but feels he must go on creating worlds with his other 
hand. His soldiers and their women, his peasants gunned down by 
overseers, his sarcophagi with horrible crucified bodies, are im- 
mortal in our native American painting, bearing witness to our 

By this time Diego Rivera had done so much work, and so much 
squabbling with everyone, that this burly painter was a legend. 
Looking at him, it seemed strange to me that he didn’t have scaly 
fishtails or cloven hoofs. Diego Rivera had always been a fabrica- 
tor. In Paris, before the First World War, Ilya Ehrenburg had 
published a book about his exploits and hoaxes: The Extraordinary 
Adventures of Julio Jurenito. Thirty years later Diego Rivera was 
still a great master as painter and teller of tall stories. He used to 
recommend the eating of human flesh as a healthy diet much fa- 
vored by the greatest gourmets. He gave out recipes for cooking 
people of all ages. At other times he went to great lengths theoriz- 
ing on lesbian love, maintaining that it was the only normal 
relationship, as proved by the oldest historical remains found in 
excavations he himself had directed. 

Sometimes he would ramble on for hours, working his hooded 
Indian eyes and telling me all about his Jewish background. At 
other times, forgetting the previous conversations, he swore to me 
that he was General Rommel’s father, but this confidence must be 



kept very secret, as its disclosure could have grave international 
consequences. His extraordinarily persuasive tone and his serene 
way of delineating the minutest and most incredible details made 
him a marvelous charlatan whose charm can never be forgotten 
by anyone who knew him. 

David Alfaro Siqueiros was in jail then. Someone had sent him 
on an armed raid of Trotsky’s home. I met him in prison, and 
outside as well, because we used to go out with Commandant 
Perez Rulfo, the warden, to have a drink somewhere where we 
wouldn’t be noticed too much. We would return late at night and 
I would bid David goodbye with an embrace, and he would stay 
there behind bars. 

On one of those trips back from the streets to the prison with 
Siqueiros, I met his brother, Jesus Siqueiros, a most unusual man. 
“Crafty,” in the good sense of the word, comes closest to describ- 
ing him. He glided alongside the walls without making a sound or 
any perceptible movement. Suddenly you noticed him right be- 
hind or beside you. He seldom spoke, and when he did speak, it 
was barely above a whisper. Which did not prevent him from 
hauling around, just as quietly, forty or fifty pistols in a small bag. 
It was just my luck to open the bag once, absentmindedly, and 
discover with a shock the arsenal of black, pearl, and silver handles. 

It all meant nothing, because Jesus Siqueiros was as peace- 
loving as his brother David was tempestuous. Jesus was also a 
gifted artist and actor, a mime. Without moving his body or his 
hands, without letting out the slightest sound, acting only with 
his face, whose lines he changed at will, turning it into a series of 
masks, he gave vivid impressions of terror, anguish, joy, tender- 
ness. He bore that pale, ghostly face through the labyrinth of his 
life, emerging, from time to time, with all those pistols that he 
never used. 

Those volcanic painters kept the public in line. Sometimes they 
got into tremendous debates. During one of these, having run 
out of arguments, Diego Rivera and Siqueiros drew huge pistols 
and fired almost as one man, not at each other, but at the wings of 
the plaster-of-Paris angels on the theater’s ceiling. When the 
heavy plaster wings started falling on the heads of the people in 
the audience, the theater emptied out and the discussion ended 
with a powerful smell of gunpowder in a deserted hall. 


Mexico, Blossoming and Thorny 

Rufino Tamayo was not living in Mexico at this time. Complex 
and passionate, as Mexican as the fruit or the woven goods in the 
markets, his paintings came to us from New York. 

No parallel can be drawn between the painting of Diego Rivera 
and that of David Alfaro Siqueiros. Diego has a classicist’s feeling 
for line; with that infinitely undulating line, a kind of historian’s 
calligraphy, he gradually tied together Mexico’s history and 
brought out in high relief its events, traditions, and tragedies. 
Siqueiros is the explosion of a volcanic temperament that com- 
bines an amazing technique and painstaking research. 

During clandestine sorties from jail and conversations on every 
topic, Siqueiros and I planned his final deliverance. On a visa I 
personally affixed to his passport, he traveled to Chile with his 
wife, Angelica Arenales. The people of Mexico had built a school 
in the Chilean city of Chilian, which had been destroyed by 
earthquakes, and in that “Mexico School” Siqueiros painted one 
of his extraordinary murals. The government of Chile repaid me 
for that service to our nation’s culture by suspending me from my 
consular duties for two months. 


I decided to visit Guatemala and set out by car. We passed 
through the isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico’s golden region, 
with its women dressed like butterflies and a scent of honey and 
sugar in the air. Next we went into the great forest of Chiapas. 
We would stop the car at night, intimidated by the noises, the 
jungle’s telegraph messages. Here, there, and everywhere, thou- 
sands of cicadas transmitted a deafening sound. Enigmatic Mexico 
spread its green shadows over ancient structures, remote paint- 
ings, jewels and monuments, colossal heads, stone animals. All this 
lay about in the forest, the untold riches of fabulous Mexico. 
Across the border, on the highest ridges of Central America, the 
narrow Guatemalan road dazzled me with its lianas and mammoth 
vegetation; and later with its placid lakes, high up in the moun- 
tains, like eyes forgotten by wasteful gods; and finally with its 
pine forests and broad primordial rivers where manatees peered 
out of the water like human beings. 

I stayed for a week with Miguel Angel Asturias, who had not 



yet become known for his successful novels. We realized we were 
bom brothers and spent almost every day together. In the eve- 
ning we would plan visits to faraway places on mountains 
shrouded in mist or to United Fruit’s tropical ports. 

Guatemalans did not have the right of free speech, and no one 
talked politics. The walls had ears and could turn you in. Some- 
times we would stop the car on a high plateau and make sure 
nobody was lurking behind some tree, and we would discuss the 
situation avidly. The despot’s name was Ubico and he had been 
running the country for a good many years. He was a corpulent 
man, with cold, cruel eyes. His word was law, and nothing in 
Guatemala was done without his explicit approval. I met one of 
his secretaries, now my friend, a revolutionary. For arguing back 
about something, some petty detail, he had been bound on the 
spot to a column in the presidential office and whipped mercilessly 
by Ubico himself. 

The young poets asked me to give a poetry reading. They sent 
Ubico a telegram requesting permission. All my friends and many 
young students filled the auditorium. I was happy to read my 
poems, they seemed to open a tiny crack in the window of a vast 
prison. The chief of police sat conspicuously in the front row. 
Later I found out that four machine guns had been trained on me 
and the audience, ready to burst into action if the chief of police 
interrupted the reading by leaving his seat in a huff. 

But nothing of the kind happened, the man stayed and listened 
to my poems to the end. 

Later someone wanted to introduce me to the dictator, a man 
with a Napoleon complex. He liked to wear a lock of hair on his 
forehead, and had his photograph taken a number of times in Bona- 
parte’s famous pose. I was told that it was dangerous to turn 
down the offer, but I preferred not to shake his hand and went 
back to Mexico as fast as I could. 


Mexico in those days was more gun-toting than gunfighter. There 
was a cult of the revolver, a fetishism of the .45. Colts were 
whipped out at the drop of a pin. Parliamentary candidates and 
newspapers would start their “depistolization” campaigns, but 

1 57 

Mexico, Blossoming and Thorny 

would quickly realize that it was easier to pull a Mexican’s tooth 
then wrest his beloved gun from him. 

Once a group of poets entertained me with an outing in a 
flower-laden boat. Fifteen or twenty bards met at Lake Xochi- 
milco and took me on this ride, hemmed in by water and blos- 
soms, over canals and through a maze of everglades used for 
flowery rides since the time of the Aztecs. Every inch of the boat 
is decorated with flowers, overflowing with marvelous patterns 
and colors. The hands of the Mexicans, like the hands of the 
Chinese, are incapable of creating anything ugly, whether they 
work in stone, silver, clay, or carnations. 

Well, during the ride, after a good many tequilas, one of the 
poets insisted that, as a special honor of a different kind, I should 
fire into the sky his beautiful pistol whose grip was decorated 
with silver and gold designs. The colleague nearest to him 
whipped out his own pistol and, carried away with enthusiasm, 
slapped aside the foot man’s weapon and invited me to do the 
shooting with his. Each of the other rhapsodists unsheathed his 
pistol on the instant, and a free-for-all ensued: they all raised their 
guns over my head, each insisting I choose his instead of one of the 
others. As the precarious panoply of pistols being waved in front 
of my nose or passed under my arms became more and more 
dangerous, it occurred to me to take a huge, typical sombrero and 
gather all the firearms into it, asking the battalion of poets for 
their guns in the name of poetry and peace. Everyone obeyed and 
I was able to confiscate the weapons and keep them safe in my 
house for several days. I am the only poet, I believe, in whose 
honor an anthology of pistols has been put together. 


The salt of the earth had gathered in Mexico: exiled writers of 
every nationality had rallied to the camp of Mexican freedom, 
while the war dragged on in Europe, with victory upon victory 
going to Hitler’s forces, which already occupied France and Italy. 
Among those present were Anna Seghers and the Czech humorist 
Egon Erwin Kisch, who has since died. Kisch left some fascinat- 
ing books and I greatly admired his wonderful talent, his child- 
like curiosity, and his dexterity at legerdemain. No sooner had he 
entered my house than he would pull an egg out of his ear or 



swallow, one by one, as many as seven coins, which this very fine, 
impoverished exile could well use for himself. We had known 
each other in Spain, and when he showed incessant curiosity 
about my reason for using the name Neruda, which I was not 
bom with, I kidded him: “Great Kisch, you may have uncovered 
the secret of Colonel Redl”— the famous Austrian spy case of 1914 
—“but you will never clear up the mystery of my name.” 

And so it was. He died in Prague, having been accorded every 
honor his liberated country could give him, but this professional 
interloper was never able to find out why Neruda called himself 
Neruda. The answer was so simple and so lacking in glamour that 
I was careful not to give the secret away. When I was fourteen, 
my father was always at me about my literary endeavors. He 
didn’t like the idea of having a son who was a poet. To cover up 
the publication of my first poems, I looked for a last name that 
would throw him completely off the scent. I took the Czech name 
from a magazine, without knowing it was the name of a great 
writer loved by a whole nation, the author of elegant ballads and 
narrative poems, whose monument stood in Prague’s Mala Strana 
quarter. Many years later, the first thing I did when I got to 
Czechoslovakia was to place a flower at the foot of the bearded 


Wenceslao Roces, from Salamanca, and Constancia de la Mora, a 
Republican as well as a relative of the Duke of Maura, and the 
author of the book In Place of Splendor, which was a best seller in 
North America, and the poets Leon Felipe, Juan Rejano, Moreno 
Villa, Herrera Petere, and the painters Miguel Prieto and Rodri- 
guez Luna used to come to my house. They were all Spaniards. 
Vittorio Vidali, the famed Commandant Carlos of the Fifth Regi- 
ment, and Mario Montagnana, Italian exiles, full of memories, 
amazing stories, and possessed of a culture always in flux. Jacques 
Soustelle and Gilbert Medioni were also there. They were Gaul- 
list leaders, representatives of Free France. Mexico also swarmed 
with voluntary or forced exiles from Central America: Guate- 
malans, Salvadorians, Hondurans. All this gave it an interna- 
tional flavor, and sometimes my home, an old villa in the San 

1 59 

Mexico, Blossoming and Thorny 

Angel neighborhood, pulsated as if it were the heart of the world. 

In connection with Soustelle, who was then a left-wing socialist 
and who years later, as political leader of the attempted rebel 
coup in Algiers, would cause President de Gaulle so much 
trouble, something happened to me that I must tell about. We 
were far into the year 1941. The Nazis had laid siege to Lenin- 
grad and were penetrating farther into Soviet territory. The foxy 
Japanese military leaders, committed to the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo 
axis, were in a spot: Germany might win the war, and they would 
be deprived of their share of the spoils. Various rumors were 
circulating around the globe. Zero hour, when the mighty Japa- 
nese forces would be unleashed in the East, loomed closer. Mean- 
while, in Washington, a Japanese peace mission was curtsying and 
bowing to the United States government. There wasn’t the 
slightest room for doubt that the Japanese would launch a sur- 
prise attack, for blitzkrieg was the bloody order of the day. 

To make my story clear, I must mention that an old Nipponese 
steamship line linked Japan to Chile. I traveled on those ships 
more than once and I knew them very well. They called at our 
ports and their captains spent their time buying scrap iron and 
taking photographs. They touched shore at points along the 
coastline of Chile, Peru, and Ecuador, going as far as the Mexican 
port of Manzanillo, where they pointed their bows toward 
Yokohama, across the Pacific. 

Well, one day, while I was still Consul General of Chile in 
Mexico, I received a visit from seven Japanese who were in a rush 
to obtain a Chilean visa. They had come from San Francisco, Los 
Angeles, and other ports on the North American west coast. A 
certain uneasiness was written across their faces. They were 
dressed well and their papers were in order; they could have been 
engineers or business executives. 

I asked them, of course, why they wanted to take the very first 
plane to Chile, having just arrived in Mexico. They replied that 
they intended to catch a Japanese ship in Tocopilla, a nitrate- 
shipping port in northern Chile. I countered that there was no 
need to travel to Chile, at the other end of the continent, for this, 
because that same Japanese line called at Manzanillo, which they 
could reach even on foot, if they wished, with time to spare. 

They exchanged embarrassed glances and smiles, and talked 



among themselves in their own language. They consulted the 
secretary of the Japanese Embassy, who was with them. He de- 
cided to be open with me and said, “Look, colleague, this ship 
happens to have changed its itinerary and won’t be coming to 
Manzanillo any more. And, therefore, these distinguished special- 
ists must catch it at the Chilean port.” 

A confused vision flashed across my mind: this was something 
very important. I asked for their passports, photographs, for data 
about their work in the United States, etc., and told them to re- 
turn the next day. They objected. They had to have the visas 
immediately and would be willing to pay any price. I was playing 
for time. I explained that I did not have the authority to issue visas 
on the spot, we would discuss it the next day. 

I was left to myself. 

Little by little, the puzzle unraveled in my mind. Why the 
hasty flight from North America and the pressing need for 
the visas? And why was the Japanese ship changing its route 
for the first time in thirty years? What could it mean? 

Then it dawned on me. Of course, this was an important, well- 
informed group, Japanese spies beating a hasty retreat from the 
United States because something critical was about to happen. 
And that could be nothing but Japan’s entry into the war. The 
Japanese in my story were in on the secret. 

The conclusion 1 had reached left me in an extremely nervous 
state. What could I do? I did not know the English or the North 
American representatives of the Allied nations in Mexico. I was in 
direct contact only with those officially accredited as General de 
Gaulle’s delegates, who had access to the Mexican government. 
I got in touch with them at once and explained the situation. We 
had at hand the names of the Japanese and vital information about 
them. Should the French decide to take steps, the Japanese would 
be trapped. I presented my arguments eagerly at first, and then 
impatiently, before the indifferent Gaullists. “Young diplomats,” 
I told them, “here is your chance to cover yourselves with glory. 
Find out the secret of these Japanese spies. As for me, I won’t give 
them the visa. But you have to make a quick decision.” 

This fast and loose game lasted two days longer. Soustelle took 
no interest in the matter. They would do nothing, and I, a Chilean 

Mexico, Blossoming and Thorny 161 

consul, could take it no further. Since I refused to grant them a 
visa, the Japanese immediately obtained diplomatic passports, 
went to the Chilean Embassy, and made it in time to take the ship 
in Tocopilla. One M eek later, the world would wake up to the 
news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 


Years ago a newspaper in Chile printed a story about my good 
friend, the celebrated Professor Julian Huxley, who arrived in 
Santiago and asked for me at the airport. “Neruda the poet?” the 
newsmen questioned him. 

“No. I don’t know any poet by the name of Neruda. I want to 
speak to Neruda the malacologist.” 

That Greek word means “specialist in mollusks.” 

I was delighted by this story, which was intended to nettle me. 
It could not possibly be true, because Huxley and I had known 
each other for years and he is a sharp fellow, much more quick- 
witted and genuine than his well-known brother, Aldous. 

In Mexico I roamed the beaches, dived into the clear, temperate 
waters, and collected magnificent seashells. Later, in Cuba and 
elsewhere, I swapped and bought, received as gifts and filched 
(there’s no such thing as an honest collector), gradually swelling 
my sea treasure until it filled room after room in my house. 

I owned the rarest specimens from the China Sea and the 
Philippines, from Japan and the Baltic; Antarctic conches and 
polimytas from Cuba; painter shells dressed in red and saffron, 
blue and purple like Caribbean dancers. One of the few specimens 
I did not have, I admit, was a land snail from Brazil’s Mato Grosso. 
I saw one once but couldn’t buy it, and I was not able to travel 
into the jungle to get one. It was all green, as beautiful as a new 

I became such an avid collector that I visited the most remote 
seas. Friends also began to hunt for conches, to become snail- 

When I had gathered together fifteen thousand shells, they 
filled every last shelf and began to spill from tables and chairs. 
Books on conchology or malacology— call it what you will— 
overflowed my library. So one day I took my whole collection 

and carried it to the university in huge crates, making my first 
donation to my Alma Mater. It was a famous collection by then. 
Like any good South American institution, my university re- 
ceived it with praises and panegyrics, and buried it away in a 
basement. No one has seen it since. 


While I was far away, at my post on the islands of the remote 
archipelago, the sea hummed to me and the silent world was filled 
with things that spoke to my solitude. But cold and hot wars 
corrupted the consular service and eventually made each consul 
an automaton, without personality, unable to make any decisions 
for himself, and his work became suspiciously close to that of the 
police. The Ministry insisted on my checking the ethnic origins of 
immigrants; Africans, Asians, and Jews could not enter my 

This stupidity reached such extremes that I, too, became its 
victim when I started a handsome magazine (without a subsidy 
from the national treasury) and named it Araucania. On the 
cover I used the picture of a lovely Araucanian wearing a toothy 
smile. That’s all the Foreign Minister needed to give me a severe 
dressing down for what he considered something debasing, even 
though Don Pedro Aguirre Cerda, whose pleasant and noble face 
had all the features of our mixed race, was President of the Re- 

It is common knowledge that the Araucanians were crushed 
and, finally, forgotten or conquered. What’s more, history is 
written by the conquerors or by those who reap the spoils of 
victory. There are few races worthier than the Araucanian. Some 
day we’ll see Araucanian universities, books printed in Arauca- 
nian, and we’ll realize how much we have lost with their clarity, 
their purity and volcanic energy. 

The absurd “racial” pretensions of some South American coun- 
tries, which are themselves the results of many national origins 
and mixed breeding, are a colonialist vice. They want to set up a 
dais where a handful of snobs, scrupulously white or light- 
skinned, can appear in society, posturing in front of pure Aryans 
or pretentious tourists. Fortunately, all this is becoming a thing of 

Mexico, Blossoming and Thorny 163 

the past and the UN is filling up with black and Mongolian repre- 
sentatives; in short, as the sap of intelligence rises, the foliage of all 
the races is gradually displaying all the colors of its leaves. 

I ended by getting fed up and one day I resigned from my 
career as Consul General forever. 


Furthermore, I realized that the Mexican world— repressed, vio- 
lent, and nationalistic, cloaked in its pre-Columbian civility— 
would get along without my presence or approval. When I de- 
cided to return to my country, I understood less about Mexican 
life than when I came to Mexico. Arts and letters thrived in rival 
circles, but God help any outsider who sided with or against any 
individual or group: everyone came down on him. 

When I was almost ready to leave, I was honored with a mon- 
strous public demonstration: a dinner for almost three thousand 
persons, not counting hundreds who couldn’t even get in. Several 
Presidents sent congratulations. Still, Mexico is the touchstone of 
America, and it was not an accident that the solar calendar of 
ancient America, the node of irradiation, wisdom, and mystery, 
was carved there. 

Everything could happen, everything did happen there. The 
only opposition newspaper was subsidized by the government. It 
was the most dictatorial democracy anyone can imagine. 

I recall a tragic event that left me badly shaken. A strike was 
dragging on in a factory, with no solution in sight. The strikers’ 
wives got together and agreed to try to see the President and tell 
him perhaps of their privations and their distress. Of course, they 
had no weapons. Along the way they got some flowers to present 
to the head of state and his wife. A guard halted the women as 
they were entering the palace, and they were allowed no farther. 
The President would not receive them; they would have to go to 
the appropriate government bureau. Anyway, they must vacate 
the premises. It was an ultimatum. 

The women pleaded their cause. They wouldn’t be any 
trouble. They just wanted to deliver the flowers to the President 
and ask if he could do something to settle the strike soon. Their 
children had no food; they couldn’t go on like that. The officer of 



the guard refused to relay any message. And the women would 
not go. 

Then a volley of shots from the direction of the palace guard 
splintered the air. Six or seven women were killed on the spot, and 
many others wounded. 

A hasty funeral took place on the following day. I had believed 
an immense procession would follow the caskets of the assassi- 
nated women, but only a few people showed up. Oh, yes, the 
union leader made a speech. He was known as a prominent revo- 
lutionary. His speech at the cemetery was in an irreproachable 
style. I read the entire text the next day in the newspapers. It did 
not contain a single line of protest, not a single angry word or any 
demand that those responsible for such an atrocity be put on trial. 
Two weeks later, no one even spoke of the massacre. And I have 
never seen it mentioned in writing by anyone. 

The President was an Aztec ruler, a thousand times more un- 
touchable than England’s royal family. No newspaper could criti- 
cize the exalted functionary, either in jest or seriously, without 
suffering immediate consequences. 

Mexican dramas are so clothed in the picturesque that one 
comes away astounded by all the allegory— allegory that is every 
day more remote from the essential throb of life, the blood- 
spattered skeleton. The philosophers have become euphuistic and 
launch into existentialist dissertations that seem foolish under a 
volcano. Civilian action is intermittent and difficult. Submission 
takes on varying aspects that stratify around the throne. 

But every kind of magic is always appearing and reappearing in 
Mexico: from the volcano born before a peasant’s eyes in his 
humble orchard, while he was planting beans, to the wild search 
for the skeleton of Cortes, who, rumor has it, rests in Mexican soil 
with his gold helmet protecting the conquistador’s skull these 
many centuries, and the no less intense hunt for the remains of the 
Aztec emperor Cuauhtemoc. Lost four centuries ago, they keep 
showing up here and there, safeguarded by.secretive Indians, only 
to sink back time and again into unfathomable darkness. 

Mexico lives on in me like a small stray eagle circulating 
through my veins. Only death will fold its wings over my sleep- 
ing soldier’s heart. 


My Country in Darkness 


T he Ministry lost no time in accepting the voluntary end to my 

My diplomatic suicide gave me the infinite pleasure of being 
able to return to Chile. I believe a man should live in his own 
country and I think the deracination of human beings leads to 
frustration, in one way or another obstructing the light of the 
soul. I can live only in my own country. I cannot live without 
having my feet and my hands on it and my ear against it, without 
feeling the movement of its waters and its shadows, without feel- 
ing my roots reach down into its soil for maternal nourishment. 

But, before getting back to Chile, I made another discovery 
that was to add a new layer of growth to my poetry. 

I stopped in Peru and made a trip to the ruins of Macchu 
Picchu. There was no highway then and we rode up on horse- 
back. At the top I saw the ancient stone structures hedged in by 
the tall peaks of the verdant Andes. Torrents hurtled down from 
the citadel eaten away and weathered by the passage of the cen- 
turies. White fog drifted up in masses from the Wilkamayu River. 
I felt infinitely small in the center of that navel of rocks, the navel 
of a deserted world, proud, towering high, to which I somehow 
belonged. I felt that my own hands had labored there at some 
remote point in time, digging furrows, polishing the rocks. 





I felt Chilean, Peruvian, American. On those difficult heights, 
among those glorious, scattered ruins, I had found the principles 
of faith I needed to continue my poetry. 

My poem Alturas de Macchu Picchu was born there. 


At the end of 1943 I arrived in Santiago once more. I settled 
down in a house I bought on the installment plan. I piled all my 
books into this house surrounded by huge trees, and took up the 
hard life again. 

Once more I sought my country’s beauty, the loveliness of its 
women, nature’s overpowering splendor, the work of my fellows, 
the intelligence of my countrymen. The country had not 
changed. Fields and sleeping villages, heartbreaking poverty in 
the mining regions, elegant people crowding into the country 
clubs. I had to make a decision. 

My decision brought me harassments as well as moments of 

What poet could have regretted that? 

Curzio Malaparte, who interviewed me some years after what I 
am about to relate, stated it well in his article: “1 am not a Com- 
munist, but if I were a Chilean poet, I would be one, like Pablo 
Neruda. You have to take sides here, with the Cadillacs or with 
people who have no schooling or shoes.” 

These people without schooling or shoes elected me senator on 
March 4, 1945. I shall always cherish with pride the fact that 
thousands of people from Chile’s most inhospitable region, the 
great mining region of copper and nitrate, gave me their vote. 

Walking over the pampa was laborious and rough. It hasn’t 
rained for half a century there, and the desert has done its work 
on the faces of the miners. They are men with scorched features; 
their solitude and the neglect they are consigned to has been fixed 
in the dark intensity of their eyes. Going from the desert up to 
the mountains, entering any needy home, getting to know the 
inhuman labor these people do, and feeling that the hopes of 
isolated and sunken men have been entrusted to you, is not a light 
responsibility. But my poetry opened the way for communica- 
tion, making it possible for me to walk and move among them and 

My Country in Darkness 167 

be accepted as a lifelong brother by my countrymen, who led 
such a hard life. 

I don’t remember whether it was in Paris or Prague that I was 
seized by a small doubt about the encyclopedic knowledge of my 
friends there. Most of them were writers, and the rest, students. 

“We are talking a lot about Chile,” 1 said to them, “and it’s 
probably because I am Chilean. But do any of you know any- 
thing about my country, which is so far away? For example, 
what vehicle do we use for locomotion? Elephant, car, train, air- 
plane, bicycle, camel, or sleigh?” 

Most of them replied earnestly: elephant. 

There are no elephants or camels in Chile. But I can see how 
puzzling a country can be that starts at the frozen South Pole and 
stretches upward to salt mines and deserts where it hasn’t rained 
for eons. As senator-elect of the inhabitants of that wilderness, as 
representative of innumerable nitrate and copper workers who 
had never worn a shirt collar or a tie, I had to travel those deserts 
for many years. 

Coming into those lowlands, facing those stretches of sand, is 
like visiting the moon. This region that looks like an empty planet 
holds my country’s great wealth, but the white fertilizer and the 
red mineral have to be extracted from the arid earth and the 
mountains of rock. There are few places in the world where life is 
so harsh and offers so little to live for. It takes untold sacrifices to 
transport water, to nurse a plant that yields even the humblest 
flower, to raise a dog, a rabbit, a pig. 

I come from the other end of the republic. I was born in green 
country with huge, thickly wooded forests. I had a childhood 
filled with rain and snow. The mere act of facing that lunar desert 
was a turning point in my life. Representing those men in parlia- 
ment— their isolation, their titanic land— was also a difficult task. 
The naked earth, without a single plant, without a drop of water, 
is an immense, elusive enigma. In the forests, alongside rivers, 
everything speaks to man. The desert, on the other hand, is uncom- 
municative. I couldn’t understand its language: that is, its silence. 

Over a period of many years the nitrate corporations estab- 
lished veritable principalities, dominions, or empires on the 

pampas. The English, the Germans, invaders of every kind, took 
over the productive regions and gave them company names. They 
imposed their own currency; they prevented any kind of assem- 
bly by the people; they banned political parties and the people’s 
press. You could not enter the premises without special permis- 
sion, which, of course, very few were able to obtain. 

One afternoon I spoke to the laborers in a machine shop in the 
offices of the Maria Elena potassium-nitrate mine. The floor of 
the huge workshop was, as always, slushy with water, oil, and 
acids. The union leaders and I walked on a plank that kept us 
off that mire. “These planks,” I was told, “cost us fifteen strikes 
in a row, eight years of petitioning, and seven dead.” 

The deaths occurred when the company’s private police car- 
ried off seven leaders during a strike. The guards rode horses, 
while the workers, bound with ropes, followed on foot over the 
lonely stretches of sand. It took only a few shots to murder them. 
Their bodies were left lying in the desert sun and cold, until they 
were picked up and buried by their fellow workers. 

Years before that, things were much worse. In 1906, for ex- 
ample, the strikers went from the nitrate-mine offices down 
to the city of Iquique to take their demands directly to the gov- 
ernment. Exhausted by the journey, several thousand men 
gathered in the town square, in front of the school, to rest. They 
were going to see the governor in the morning, to lay their peti- 
tions before him. But they never had the chance. Troops led by a 
colonel surrounded the square at daybreak and began shooting 
and killing, without a word. More than six thousand men fell in 
that massacre. 

In 1945, things were better, but sometimes it seemed to me that 
those days when people were exterminated were coming back. 
Once, for instance, I was denied the right to address a gathering 
of workers in a union hall. I called them out of the hall and in the 
middle of the desert I started to explain the situation to them, to 
consider the possible ways out of the conflict. There were about 
two hundred of us. Suddenly I heard the purr of motors and saw 
an army tank approach to within four or five meters of where 
I was speaking. The turret’s lid lifted and a machine gun pushed 
up through the opening, aimed right at me. Then, alongside the 
weapon, an officer stood up straight, nattily dressed but dead 

My Country in Darkness 169 

serious, and proceeded to stare at me while I went on with my 
talk. That’s all it came to. 

The faith of the huge working class, many of them illiterate, in 
the Communists was born with Luis Emilio Recabarren, who 
began his struggles in that desert region. From a simple worker- 
agitator, an old-time anarchist, Recabarren became a phantasma- 
goric and colossal presence. He filled the country with unions and 
federations. Eventually he published more than fifteen news- 
papers devoted exclusively to the defense of the new organiza- 
tions he had created. All this without having a cent. The money 
was raised thanks to the new conscience awakening among the 

I had a chance to see Recabarren printing presses that had been 
through heroic service and were still doing the job forty years 
later. Some of those presses had been smashed up by the police 
and had later been carefully repaired. Huge scars could be de- 
tected under the lovingly soldered seams that had set them in 
motion again. 

During those long tours I grew accustomed to staying in the 
humble houses, shacks, or huts of the men of the desert. There 
was almost always a group with banners waiting for me at the 
company gates. Then 1 would be shown the place where I was to 
be lodged. All day long, men and women filed through my 
quarters with complaints about working conditions, or with per- 
sonal problems. Sometimes their grievances were the kind a for- 
eigner might consider comical, capricious, or even grotesque. For 
instance, the shortage of tea could spark off a strike that would 
have serious consequences. Are typically British needs like that 
conceivable in such a desolate region? In fact, the Chilean people 
can’t live without having tea several times a day. Some of the 
barefoot workers who asked me unhappily why the exotic but 
indispensable beverage was so scarce argued by way of apology: 
“If we don’t drink it, we get a terrible headache.” 

Those men locked inside walls of silence, in the loneliest region 
and under the loneliest sky, had a healthy political curiosity. 
They wanted to know what was going on in Yugoslavia, in 
China. They were deeply interested in problems and changes in 

7 ° 



the socialist countries, the outcome of the big Italian strikes, 
rumors of war, revolutions breaking out in far-off lands. 

At hundreds of rallies, in places remote from one another, I 
heard the same request: to read my poems. They were often 
asked for by title. Of course, I never knew if all these people 
understood some or many of my poems, or if they didn’t. It 
was difficult to tell in that atmosphere of absolute silence, of rev- 
erence, in which they listened to me. But what does it matter? 
There are quite a few poems by Holderlin and Mallarme that I, 
who am one of the most literate of fools, have never been able to 
fathom. And I have read them, I confess, with the same great 

Sometimes dinner took on a more festive air and there was 
stewed chicken, rara avis on the pampas. The fare that most often 
found its way to our plates was something I had a hard time 
sinking my teeth into: fricassee of guinea pig. Conditions had 
turned this small creature, bom to die in laboratories, into a popu- 
lar dish. 

In the many houses where I stayed, the bed I invariably was 
assigned had two monastic features: snow-white sheets, so stiff 
they could have stood up by themselves; and a hardness compa- 
rable to the desert floor’s. These people did not know what a 
mattress was, only some bare boards as unyielding as they were 

Still and all, I slept the sleep of the blessed. I had no trouble 
dropping off into the deep sleep I shared with a legion of com- 
rades. The day was always dry and incandescent like a live coal, 
but night spread its coolness out on the desert under a crown 
exquisitely studded with stars. 

My poetry and my life have advanced like an American river, a 
torrent of Chilean water born in the hidden heart of the southern 
mountains, endlessly steering the flow of its currents toward the 
sea. My poetry rejected nothing it could carry along in its course; 
it accepted passion, unraveled mystery, and worked its way into 
the hearts of the people. 

I had to suffer and struggle, to love and sing; I drew my 
worldly share of triumphs and defeats, I tasted bread and blood. 
What more can a poet want? And all the choices, tears or kisses, 

My Country in Darkness i j i 

loneliness or the fraternity of man, survive in my poetry and are 
an essential part of it, because I have lived for my poetry and my 
poetry has nourished everything I have striven for. And if I have 
received many awards, awards fleeting as butterflies, fragile as 
pollen, I have attained a greater prize, one that some people may 
deride but not many can attain. I have gone through a difficult 
apprenticeship and a long search, and also through the labyrinths 
of the written word, to become the poet of my people. That is my 
reward, not the books and the poems that have been translated, or 
the books written to explicate or to dissect my words. My reward 
is the momentous occasion when, from the depths of the Lota 
coal mine, a man came up out of the tunnel into the full sunlight 
on the fiery nitrate field, as if rising out of hell, his face disfigured 
by his terrible work, his eyes inflamed by the dust, and stretching 
his rough hand out to me, a hand whose calluses and lines trace 
the map of the pampas, he said to me, his eyes shining: “I have 
known you for a long time, my brother.” That is the laurel 
crown for my poetry, that opening in the bleak pampa from 
which a worker emerges who has been told often by the wind and 
the night and the stars of Chile: “You’re not alone; there’s a poet 
whose thoughts are with you in your suffering.” 

I became a member of Chile’s Communist Party on July 15, 
r 94S- 


The bitter wrongs my comrades and I sought to bring before the 
senate had a tough time reaching the senate floor. The comfort- 
able parliamentary room seemed padded to keep out the cries of 
the wretched masses. My colleagues in the opposition were true 
experts in the art of eloquent patriotic address, and I felt smoth- 
ered under the tapestry of bogus silks they rolled out. 

Our hopes rose suddenly; one of the presidential candidates, 
Gonzalez Videla, swore to see that justice was carried out, and his 
lively eloquence won him great popularity. I was made his cam- 
paign manager and carried the good news to all parts of the 

The people elected him President by a landslide. 

But, in our creole America, Presidents often go through an 

7 2 


extraordinary metamorphosis. In the instance I am speaking of, 
the new chief of state quickly changed his friends, he married his 
family into the “aristocracy,” and was gradually transformed 
from a mere demagogue into a potentate. 

But Gonzalez Videla does not fit the pattern of the typical 
South American dictator. Bolivia’s Melgarejo and General Lopez 
of Venezuela have recognizable grass roots. These men show some 
glimmer of greatness and seem to be driven by a compulsion both 
desolate and implacable. At least, they were leaders who braved 
battles and bullets. Gonzalez Videla, however, was the product of 
smoke-filled back-room politics, an irresponsible and frivolous 
clown, a weakling who put on a tough front. 

In the fauna of our America, the great dictators have been giant 
saurians, survivors of a colossal feudalism in prehistoric lands. The 
Chilean Judas was just an amateur tyrant and on the saurian scale 
would never be anything but a poisonous lizard. Yet he did 
enough damage to seriously scar Chile, setting the country back 
hundreds of years. Chileans looked at one another in embarrass- 
ment, not quite understanding how it had all happened. 

The man was an equilibrist, an acrobat who played to all sides. 
He managed to work his way into a spectacular left-wing role, 
and in this comedy of lies was the undisputed champion. No one 
questions that. In a country where politicians tend to be or seem- 
ingly are overly serious, people welcomed the advent of frivolity, 
and when this conga dancer changed course in midstream, it was 
much too late: the prisons were crammed full of political victims, 
and concentration camps were even set up, such as the one at 
Pisagua. A police state was then established, as a national novelty. 
The only course left open was to bide one’s time and go under- 
ground to fight for the return of decency. 

Many of Gonzalez Videla’s friends, persons who had stuck by 
him right to the end of his electoral campaign, were hustled off to 
prisons on the high cordillera or in the desert, because they could 
not accept his metamorphosis. In fact, the upper class around him, 
with its economic power, had once more swallowed our country’s 
government, as it had done so often before. This time, however, 
the digestion was not pleasant and Chile went through a malaise 
that wavered between shocked daze and agony. 

With the protection of the United States, the President our 

My Country in Darkness 


votes had elected turned into a vile, bloodthirsty vampire. His 
conscience surely made him lose sleep, though he set up, near the 
presidential palace, private gar$onnieres and whorehouses, com- 
plete with carpets and mirrors, for his carnal pleasures. The con- 
temptible creature had an insignificant but twisted mind. The 
same evening he launched his great anti-Communist repression, he 
invited two or three workers’ leaders to dinner. When the meal 
was over, he went down the palace stairs with them and embraced 
them, wiping away a few tears as he said, “I am weeping because 
I’ve ordered your detention. You’ll be arrested as you go out the 
door, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again.” 


My speeches became virulent and the senate was always filled to 
listen to me. My ouster was soon demanded and obtained, and the 
police were given orders to arrest me. But we poets have in us a 
large proportion of fire and smoke. 

The smoke went into the writing. The historical parallel to all 
that was happening to me was dramatically close to our ancient 
American themes. In that year of hiding and danger, I finished my 
most important book, Canto general. 

I moved from house to house, every day. Doors opened to 
receive me everywhere. It was always people I didn’t know, who 
had somehow expressed their wish to put me up for a few days. 
They wanted to offer me asylum even if only for a few hours, or 
for weeks. I passed through fields, ports, cities, camps, and was in 
the homes of peasants, engineers, lawyers, seamen, doctors, 

There’s an old theme, a “body divided,” that recurs in the folk 
poetry of all our countries. The popular singer imagines his feet 
in one place, his kidneys somewhere else, and goes on to describe 
his whole body, which he has left behind, scattered in country- 
sides and cities. That’s how I felt in those days. 

Among the heart-warming places where I stayed, I recall a two- 
room house hidden away on one of the poorer hills of Valparaiso. 
I had to keep to a part of one room, and a small section of win- 
dow from which I could observe the life of the port. From that 
humble watchtower, my eyes took in only a fragment of the 



street. At night I would see people bustling past. It was a poor 
area, and the narrow street, a hundred meters below my window, 
monopolized all the light in the neighborhood. Dumpy little 
stores and junk shops lined it. 

Trapped as I was in my comer, my curiosity knew no bounds. 
Private speculations and conjectures. Sometimes I would find my- 
self in a quandary. Why, for example, would passers-by, whether 
indifferent or in a hurry, always pause at one store? What fascinat- 
ing merchandise was displayed in that window? Whole families 
would stop for long minutes, with children on their shoulders. I 
couldn’t see the rapt look on their faces as they gazed into the 
magic window, but I could imagine it. 

Six months later I learned that it was just a shoe-store window. 
Shoes are man’s greatest interest, I concluded. I vowed to study, 
investigate, and put this matter down in writing. I have never had 
the time to carry out this intention, this vow made in such odd 
circumstances. Yet quite a few shoes have gone into my poetry. 
They tap their way through many of my lines, although I never 
set out deliberately to put shoes in my poems. 

Visitors would suddenly drop in at the house and carry on long 
conversations; it never entered their minds that close by, sepa- 
rated by a flimsy partition of cardboard and old newspaper, was a 
poet, with God knows how many professional man-hunters on his 

Saturday afternoons, and Sunday mornings as well, the sweet- 
heart of one of the girls in the family would come to the house. 
He was not in on the secret. He was a young worker, the girl’s 
heart was his, but he hadn’t won their full confidence yet. From 
my peephole I would watch him get off the bicycle he used on his 
egg route in the huge working-class neighborhood. Not long 
after, I would hear him enter the house humming a tune. He was 
a threat to my tranquillity. I call him a threat because he insisted 
on courting the girl a few centimeters from my ear. She would 
invite him to go make platonic love in some park or at the movies, 
but he resisted heroically. And I cursed under my breath at the 
innocent egg man for being such a stay-at-home. 

The rest of the people in the house were in on the secret: the 
widowed mother, the two delightful daughters, and the sons, who 
were seamen. They unloaded bananas in the harbor and were 

My Country in Darkness 


sometimes fit' to be tied because no ship would hire them. From 
them I heard that an old ship was being scrapped. With me direct- 
ing the operation from my hidden corner, they removed the 
lovely figure from the ship’s prow and hid it in a storehouse down 
in the port. I got to know her years later, when my escape and 
exile were a thing of the past. As I write these memoirs here 
beside the sea, that handsome woman carved in wood, who has a 
Greek face like all the figureheads on old sailing ships, gazes at me 
with her wistful beauty. 

The plan was to ship me out with one of the boys, in his cabin, 
and put me ashore with the bananas when we reached Guayaquil. 
The seaman explained to me that when the ship dropped anchor 
at this port in Ecuador I was to appear on deck suddenly, like a 
well-dressed passenger, smoking a cigar, although I have never 
been able to smoke one. Since I was on the verge of departure, the 
family decided it was time I had the right kind of suit made— ele- 
gant and tropical— and I was duly fitted. 

My suit was ready in less than no time. I’ve never had so much 
fun as I had when I received it. The women of the house took 
their notions of style from a celebrated film of the day: Gone 
with the Wind. What the boys, on the other hand, considered the 
last word in elegance was something they had picked up from 
the dance halls of Harlem and the bars and cheap dance joints 
of the Caribbean world. The double-breasted jacket was fitted 
with a belt and came down to my knees. The trousers hugged me 
at the ankles. 

I put away this picturesque attire, styled by such kindly people, 
and never had the opportunity to wear it. I never came out of 
hiding on any ship, and I never went ashore with the bananas in 
Guayaquil, dressed like a phony Clark Gable. On the contrary, I 
chose the cold way out. I departed for Chile’s far south, the far 
south of the Americas, intending to cross the mountains. 


Ricardo Fonseca had been the secretary general of my party until 
this time. He was a strong-minded man with a smile, a southerner 
like me, from the cold climate of Carahue. My life underground, 
my hideouts, my clandestine excursions, the publication of my 



pamphlets, had been entrusted to Fonseca; most important of all, 
he had carefully kept secret the places where I had stopped. 
During my year and a half in hiding, the only one who always 
knew where I would eat or sleep each night was my young and 
radiant leader and secretary general, Ricardo Fonseca. But his 
health gradually wasted away until the only thing remaining was 
the green flame that peered out of his eyes; his smile dimmed 
gradually, and one day our good comrade left us forever. 

While the party was underground, a new leader was elected, a 
husky man, a longshoreman from Valparaiso, Galo Gonzalez, a 
complex man with a deceptive and deadly-earnest face. I should 
mention that there was never a personality cult in our party, 
although it was an old organization that had survived all the pro- 
verbial ideological weaknesses. The Chilean conscience, the con- 
science of a people that has accomplished everything with its 
own hands, always rose above these. We have had very few 
caudillos in the history of Chile, and our party mirrored this. 

Yet, aided by the banning of the party, the pyramidal politics of 
the Stalin era also produced a somewhat rarefied atmosphere in 
Chile. Galo Gonzalez could not stay in touch with the bulk of the 
party. The persecution was being stepped up. There were thou- 
sands of prisoners and there was a special concentration camp on 
Pisagua’s desert coast. Galo Gonzalez led an outlaw’s life filled 
with revolutionary activity, but the lack of contact between the 
leaders and the general body of the party became more and more 
pronounced. He was a great man, a wise man of the people, and a 
courageous fighter. 

Instructions for the next step in my flight reached him and 
were carried out to the letter this time. I was to be taken some- 
where a thousand kilometers from the capital and would go on 
from there across the cordillera on horseback. Argentine comrades 
would be waiting for me along the way. 

We left at sundown in the safety of an automobile we were 
lucky enough to get. My friend Dr. Raul Bulnes, then a doctor in 
the mounted police, took me in his automobile, which was above 
suspicion, to the outskirts of Santiago, where the party’s organiza- 
tion took over. In another car, specially equipped for a long trip, 
an old party friend, the chauffeur Escobar, was waiting for me. 

We stayed on the road day and night. In the daytime, I 

My Country in Darkness 


bundled up in blankets to increase the effect of my disguise of 
beard and glasses, especially when we went through towns and 
cities, or when we stopped for gas. 

I passed through Temuco at noon. I didn’t stop anywhere; no 
one recognized me. As luck would have it, my old Temuco was 
my exit route. We crossed the bridge and the village of Padre Las 
Casas. We halted a fair distance from the city and sat down on a 
rock to have a bite to eat. There was a creek far down the slope, 
and the sound of its waters came up to me. It was my childhood 
saying goodbye. I grew up in this town, my poetry was born 
between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and 
like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests. And now, on the 
road to freedom, I was pausing for a moment near Temuco and 
could hear the voice of the water that had taught me to sing. 

We set out again. Only once did we go through a moment of 
anxiety. From the middle of the highway, a determined-looking 
carabinero officer flagged down our car. I was struck dumb, but 
the scare turned out to be groundless. The officer asked us to 
drive him a hundred kilometers along the road. He sat beside the 
driver, Comrade Escobar, and carried on a friendly chat with 
him. I made believe I was sleeping, so as not to speak. Even the 
stones of Chile knew my poet’s voice. 

Without any untoward incidents, we arrived at our destination, 
a timber estate that looked uninhabited. Water lapped at it on all 
sides. First you crossed vast Lake Ranco to land among thickets 
and giant trees. From there you proceeded on horseback for a 
stretch, until you came to a place where you caught another boat, 
on Lake Maihue this time. One could barely make out the 
owner’s house, camouflaged by the hilly countryside, by the giant 
vegetation, by nature’s unfathomable hum. I’ve heard people say 
that Chile is the last comer of the world. That place overgrown 
with jungle, hemmed in by snow and lakes, was indeed one of the 
last habitable spots on this planet. 

The house in which I was given a room was makeshift, like 
everything in the area. A cast-iron stove, filled with firewood 
that looked as if it had just been cut from the forest, burned day 
and night. Heavy rain from the south pelted the windows with- 
out respite, as if it were fighting to break into the house. The rain 



dominated the sunless forest, the lakes, the volcanoes, the night, 
and turned savagely on that human shelter for obeying different 
laws and not accepting its victory. 

I barely knew Jorge Bellet, the friend who was waiting for me. 
An ex-flier, a cross between a practical man and a prospector, in 
boots and a short heavy combat jacket, he had the air of a bom 
leader, a military man’s cocky attitude that somehow fitted into 
the surroundings, although the colossal trees of the forest were 
the only troops in formation there. 

The lady of the house was a very frail, whining woman afflicted 
with neurosis. The humdrum solitude of the place, the ever- 
lasting rain, the cold, all seemed a personal affront to her. She 
spent a good part of the day whimpering, yet the house was run 
like clockwork and the food was wholesome, fresh from the 
forest and the water. 

Bellet managed the lumber company, which specialized in rail- 
road ties for Sweden and Denmark. The saws cutting the huge 
logs ground out their shrill lament all day long. First you heard 
the deep underground thud of the felled tree. Every five or 
ten minutes the ground shuddered like a dram in the dark at the 
hard impact of crashing rauli, maniu, and larch trees, giant works 
of nature, seeded there by the wind a thousand years before. 
Then the saw sectioning the bodies of these giants struck up its 
whine. The metallic sound of the saw, grating and high-pitched 
like a savage violin, following the obscure drum of the earth wel- 
coming its gods, created the tense atmosphere of a legend, a ring 
of mystery and cosmic terror. The forest was dying. I heard its 
lamenrations.with a heavy heart, as if 1 had come there to listen to 
the oldest voices anyone had ever heard. 

The big boss, the owner of the forest, was a man from Santiago 
whom I hadn’t met. His visit, slated for later on in the summer, 
was feared. His name was Pepe Rodriguez, and 1 was told he was 
a latter-day capitalist who owned looms and other mills, a busy, 
dynamic, electrifying man, and an out-and-out reactionary, a 
prominent member of Chile’s most extreme right-wing party. I 
was passing through his domain without his knowledge, and those 
qualities of his were an asset to me. No one would possibly come 
to look for me here. The civil authorities and the police were 
loyal subjects of the great man whose hospitality I was enjoying, 

My Country in Darkness 179 

and there was little or no chance that I would ever run into 

My departure was imminent. The snows were about to come 
down on the cordillera, and the Andes are no joking matter. My 
friends studied the road conditions every day. To say “roads” is 
to stretch the word. In reality, we would be venturing out over 
tracks the humus and the snow had blotted out long ago. The 
wait was becoming torture. Also, my friends on the Argentine 
side must be looking for me by this time. 

When everything seemed to be ready, Jorge Bellet, captain 
general of the timberland, warned me that something had cropped 
up. He looked down in the mouth as he said it. The owner had 
sent word that he was on his way and would arrive in two days. 

I was upset. We hadn’t quite completed our preparations. After 
all the tedious work, there was now great danger that the pro- 
prietor would discover that I was staying on his land. Everyone 
knew he was a close friend of my persecutor, Gonzalez Videla. 
And everyone knew Gonzalez Videla had put a price on my 
head. What should we do? 

From the outset, Bellet was all for confronting Rodriguez, the 
owner. “I know him very well,” he told me. “He’s quite a man, 
he will never turn you in.” 

I objected. The party’s instructions called for absolute secrecy, 
and Bellet was proposing that we violate those instructions. I said 
so. We had a heated discussion. And after weighing the political 
pros and cons, we decided that I should go to an Indian cacique’s 
house, a cabin nestled at the foot of the jungle. 

I moved into the cabin and there my situation became very 
precarious. So much so that finally, after many objections, I 
agreed to meet Pepe Rodriguez, the owner of the business, the 
sawmills, and the forests. We settled on a neutral point, neither 
his house nor the cacique’s cabin. At sundown I saw a jeep ap- 
proaching. A man who was both mature and youngish, with gray- 
ing hair and set features, got out of the jeep with my friend 
Bellet. The first thing he said was that, from then on, he would be 
responsible for my safety. Under those circumstances, no one 
would dare try anything against me. 

We talked without much warmth, but the man gradually won 
me over. It was very raw out and I invited him into the cacique’s 



house, where we continued our conversation. At a word from 
him, a bottle of champagne, another of whiskey, and some ice 

At the fourth glass of whiskey, we were arguing in loud voices. 
The man was an absolutist in his convictions. He was well in- 
formed and said interesting things, but the edge of insolence in his 
voice infuriated me. We both banged on the cacique’s table with 
the palms of our hands, but we finished the bottle in relative 

Our friendship was a lasting one. One of the best things about 
him was his unconditional frankness, the frankness of a man who 
is used to running things. But he also read my poetry in an ex- 
traordinary way, with such an intelligent and virile voice that my 
poems seemed to be born all over again. 

Rodriguez went back to the capital, to his businesses. He made 
one final gesture in my behalf. He called his subordinates together 
around me and said to them, in his typical voice of command: “If 
any obstacles come up within the next week to keep Senor Legar- 
reta from crossing into Argentina through the smugglers’ pass, 
you will open another road so he can get to the border. Drop all 
work on the timber, and open that road. Those are my orders.” 

Legarreta was my name at the time. 

Pepe Rodriguez, that domineering, feudal man, died two years 
later, bankrupt and persecuted. He had been accused of heading a 
big smuggling operation and spent many months in jail. That 
must have meant unbearable suffering for a man with such an 
arrogant nature. I have never known for certain if he was guilty 
or innocent of the crime he was accused of. But I did learn that 
our oligarchy, who years before would have lost sleep hoping 
for an invitation from the generous Rodriguez, deserted him as 
soon as they saw him on trial and broken. As for me, I still stand 
by him and can’t put him out of my memory. Pepe Rodri- 
guez was a small emperor who gave orders to open sixty kilo- 
meters of road in the jungle to help a poet reach freedom. 


The Andean mountains have hidden passes, used by smugglers in 
the old days, so hostile and difficult that the rural police no longer 

My Country in Darkness 181 

bother to patrol them. Rivers and precipices block the traveler’s 

My companion Jorge Bellet headed the expedition. Our five- 
man escort, expert horsemen and road scouts, was joined by my 
old friend Victor Bianchi, who had come to the region as sur- 
veyor in some land disputes. He did not recognize me. I had a 
heavy beard after a year and a half of living in hiding. As soon as 
he knew about my plan to cross the jungle, he offered us his 
invaluable services as veteran explorer. He had once climbed 
Aconcagua on a tragic expedition in which he had been one of the 
only survivors. 

We traveled single-file, protected by the solemn hour of dawn. 
I had not ridden a horse in many years, not since childhood, but 
here we were, on our way to the pass. The southern Andean 
forest is populated by huge trees set apart from one another: giant 
larches and mayten trees, as well as tepa and coniferous trees. The 
rauli trees have an amazing girth. I stopped to measure one. It had 
the diameter of a horse. The sky overhead can’t be seen. Below, 
leaves have been falling for centuries, forming a layer of humus 
the hoofs of the mounts sink down into. We were passing 
through one of primitive nature’s great cathedrals. 

Our way took us through hidden and forbidden territory, and 
we accepted even the flimsiest indications we could follow. There 
were no tracks, no trails; my four mounted companions and I 
wove in and out, overcoming such obstacles as powerful trees, 
impassable rivers, enormous crags, desolate snows, guessing more 
often than not, looking for the road to my freedom. My com- 
panions were sure of their bearings, the best way between the 
thick clumps of vegetation, but, to be on the safe side, they 
notched the bark of the huge trees here and there with a machete, 
blazing a trail to guide them back, once they had left me to my 

Each one moved along, absorbed in that solitude without 
boundary lines, in the green and white silence: the trees, the long 
vines, the humus deposited by hundreds of years, the partly fallen 
trees suddenly becoming another roadblock. It was all the daz- 
zling and secretive work of nature and at the same time a growing 
threat of cold, snow, and pursuit. It all came into play: solitude, 
danger, silence, and the urgency of my mission. 

Sometimes we followed a dim trail left by smugglers perhaps or 
by common outlaws fleeing from justice; we wondered how 
many had perished, surprised by winter’s icy hand, in the heavy 
snowstorms that break loose in the Andes and surround the trav- 
eler, burying him under seven stories of snow. 

On either side of the trail in that wild desolation, I saw some- 
thing that looked like the work of human hands. Broken branches 
piled together, they had endured many winters; a vegetable offer- 
ing from hundreds of travelers, tall wooden tombs to remember 
the fallen, to remind us of those who had not been able to go on 
and had been left there forever, under the snows. With their 
machetes, my companions also lopped off those branches that 
touched our heads, diving at us from the tops of the huge conifers, 
from the oaks whose last leaves were fluttering before the coming 
of the winter storms. And on each grave mound I, too, left a 
memento, a wooden calling card, a branch from the forest to 
adorn the tomb of some unknown traveler. 

We had to cross a river. Those small springs bom on the An- 
dean peaks plummet down, unload their vertiginous, crushing 
power, turn into waterfalls, tear up land and rocks with the 
energy and speed gathered in those staggering altitudes. But this 
time we came upon a pool, a huge mirror of water, a ford. The 
horses went in, lost their footing, and swam to the other side. My 
mount was soon almost totally covered by the water, I began to 
sway unsteadily, my drifting feet thrashed about, while the ani- 
mal struggled to keep its head above water. So we went across. 
And no sooner had we reached the other shore than my guides, 
the peasants who accompanied me, grinned and asked: “Were 
you very scared?” 

“Very. I thought my end had come,” I replied. 

“We were behind you with a rope ready in our hands,” they 

“My father fell in right there,” one of them added, “and the 
current dragged him away. We weren’t about to let the same 
thing happen to you." 

We went on, eventually entering a natural tunnel opened in the 
impressive rock perhaps by a powerful river that has since dis- 
appeared or by a spasm of the earth that created this formation in 
the mountains, dug this canal in the hinterlands, excavated from 

My Country in Darkness 


the rock, the granite which we were now entering. A little farther 
on, the mounts kept slipping, they would try to get a footing in 
the rocky depressions, their legs buckled, sparks flew from their 
shoes. I was thrown from my horse and sprawled out on the 
rocks more than once. My horse was bleeding at the nose and 
legs, but we stubbornly continued on our vast, magnificent, gruel- 
ing way. 

There was something waiting for us in that wild forest. Sud- 
denly we came out into a neat little meadow, an unbelievable 
vision, nestled in the mountain’s lap: crystalline water, green 
grass, wild flowers, the murmur of streams, and a blue sky over 
us, a generous light unbroken by foliage. 

We stopped inside this magic circle, like guests in a holy place: 
and even holier was the ceremony in which I took part. The 
cowboys dismounted. A bull’s skull had been set down in the 
center of the hollow, as if for some ritual. My companions ap- 
proached it in silence, one by one, and left a few coins and some 
food in its bone sockets. I joined them in that offering intended 
for rough-mannered men who had strayed away like Ulysses, for 
fugitives of every breed, who would find bread and assistance in 
the dead bull’s eyepits. 

But the unforgettable ceremony did not end here. My rustic 
friends shed their hats and started a strange dance, hopping 
around the abandoned skull on one foot, retracing the circles of 
tracks left by the dances of so many others who had passed that 
way before. There with my inscrutable companions I came to un- 
derstand then, in some only vaguely defined way, that communica- 
tion existed between people who did not know one another, that 
there was solicitude, pleas and answers to those pleas, even in the 
most far-flung and out-of-the-way places in the world. 

Farther along, that night, just before we were to cross the 
frontier that would separate me from my country for many 
years, we came to the last mountain gorges. Suddenly we saw a 
burning light, a sure sign of human life, and coming closer, we 
found several ramshackle sheds that looked empty. We entered 
one of them and saw, by the firelight, huge logs burning in the 
center of the room, bodies of giant trees that burned there day 
and night, releasing, through cracks in the roof, smoke that 
drifted in the dark like a heavy blue veil. We saw piles of cheeses, 



stacked there by those who had curdled them at that altitude. 
Several men, huddled together like sacks, were lying next to the 
fire. In the silence, we heard the strings of a guitar and the words 
of a song, born of the live coals and the darkness, bringing us the 
first human voice we had met on our trip. It was a song of love and 
faraway places, a lament of love and yearning addressed to spring, 
which was still far off, to the cities from which we came, to life’s 
infinite spaces. They didn’t know who we were, they knew noth- 
ing about the fugitive, they didn’t know my poetry or my name. 
Or did they know it, did they know us? Anyway, we sang and 
ate next to that fire, and later we walked through the dark into 
some crude rooms. A thermal spring passed through them, volcanic 
water we plunged into, a warmth that broke from the mountains 
and drew us close to itself. 

We splashed around happily, washing, cleansing off the heavi- 
ness of our long ride. We felt refreshed, born again, baptized, 
when we set out at dawn on the final kilometers that would take 
me away from the shadows hovering over my country. We left 
on our horses, singing, with a new air filling our lungs, a breath 
that drove us on to the great highway of the world waiting for 
me. When we tried— this is still fresh in my mind— to give the 
mountaineers some money to pay for the songs, the food, the 
thermal waters, the bed and the roof, that is, for the unexpected 
welcome we had met, they refused our offer without even con- 
sidering it. They had done what they could for us, that’s all. And 
“that’s all,” the silent “that’s all,” implied many things, perhaps 
recognition, perhaps our common dreams. 


An abandoned shack marked out the frontier for us. I was now a 
free man. On the cabin’s wall I wrote: “Goodbye, my country. I 
am leaving, but I take you with me.” 

A Chilean friend was supposed to be waiting for us in San 
Martin de los Andes. This little mountain village in Argentina is 
so tiny that all I had been told, by way of instructions, was: “Go 
to the best hotel. Pedrito Ramirez will be waiting for you there.” 
But such is life: there wasn’t one best hotel in San Martin de los 
Andes; there were two. Which one should we pick? We decided 
on the more expensive one, located on the edge of town, after 

My Country in Darkness 1 85 

discounting the first, which we had seen on the lovely town 

It so happened that the hotel we chose was so posh that they 
wouldn’t take us in. The effects of several days’ journey on horse- 
back, the sacks on our shoulders, our bearded and dusty faces, 
drew hostile looks. Anyone would have been afraid to let us in. 
And more so the manager of a hotel whose customers were British 
aristocrats from Scotland, who came to Argentina for salmon fish- 
ing. There was nothing aristocratic about us. The manager gave 
us the vade retro, alleging, with theatrical glances and gestures, 
that the last available room had been taken ten minutes before. 

Just then an elegant man, obviously an army officer, appeared 
in the doorway, accompanied by a blonde who looked like a 
movie star. He roared in a thundering voice: “Hold it. No one 
kicks Chileans out! They’re staying right here!” And we stayed. 
Our protector looked so much like Peron, and his lady so like 
Evita, that we all thought: It’s them! But later, after we had 
washed and dressed, and were sitting at table enjoying a bottle of 
suspect champagne, we found out that the man was the com- 
mander of the local garrison and she an actress from Buenos Aires 
who was paying him a visit. 

We passed ourselves off as lumbermen raring to make a good 
deal. The commander called me the “Mountain Man.” Victor 
Bianchi, whose friendship and love of adventure had made him 
come that far with me, got hold of a guitar and charmed the 
Argentine men and ladies with his suggestive Chilean songs. But 
three days and their nights went by, and Pedrito Ramirez had not 
come for me. I was beside myself. We didn’t have a clean shirt 
left, or any money for new ones. A good lumberman, Victor 
Bianchi said, should at least have clean shirts. 

Meanwhile, the commander gave a lunch for us at his garrison. 
We became better friends and he confessed to us that, for all his 
physical likeness to Peron, he was anti-Peron. We spent long 
hours arguing about who had the worse President, Chile or 

One morning, Pedrito Ramirez burst into my room. “You bas- 
tard!” I shouted at him. “What’s kept you so long?” The inevi- 
table had occurred. He had been patiently waiting for me to come 
to the other hotel, the one on the square. 

Ten minutes later, we were rolling over the pampa. And we 




rolled day and night. Once in a while, the Argentines would stop 
the car to sip some mate tea, and then we would set off again 
across that interminably monotonous land. 


Naturally, my biggest headache in Buenos Aires was to get my- 
self a new identity. The false papers I had used to cross the 
Argentine border would be no good to me for a transatlantic trip 
or to move around in Europe. How was I going to get new 
ones? Alerted by the government of Chile, the Argentine police 
were looking high and low for me. 

In this tight spot, I recalled something that lay hidden in my 
memory. Miguel Angel Asturias, the novelist, my old Central 
American friend, was, I thought, in Buenos Aires, on a diplomatic 
mission for his country, Guatemala. Our faces had a vague like- 
ness. By common consent, we had classed ourselves as chompipe, 
an Indian word for “turkey” in Guatemala and part of Mexico. 
Long-nosed, with plenty to spare in face and body, we shared a 
resemblance to the succulent bird. 

He came to see me in my hideout. 

“Friend chompipe ” I said to him, “lend me your passport. 
Allow me the pleasure of arriving in Europe as Miguel Angel 

Let me say that Asturias has always been a liberal but has 
stayed out of activist politics. Yet he didn’t think about it twice. 
A few days later, between “Senor Asturias this” and “Senor 
Asturias that,” I crossed the wide river separating Argentina and 
Uruguay. I went into Montevideo, got past airports and police 
lookouts, and finally reached Paris, disguised as the eminent 
Guatemalan novelist. 

But in France my identity posed a problem once more. My 
brand-new passport would never get me past the implacable close 
scrutiny of the Surete. I would have to give up being Miguel 
Angel Asturias and turn back into Pablo Neruda. But how could 
I, when Pablo Neruda had never arrived in France? Miguel Angel 
Asturias had. 

My advisers made me check in at the George V Hotel. “There, 
among international celebrities, no one is going to ask you for 
your papers,” they said. So I stayed there for several days, with- 

My Country in Darkness 187 

out giving much thought to my mountain clothes, which struck a 
discordant note in that rich and elegant world. 

And then Picasso showed up, whose kindness matched his 
genius. He was as thrilled as a little boy, because he had just given 
the first speech of his life. Its theme had been my poetry, my 
persecution, my absence. Now, with brotherly feeling, the in- 
spired minotaur of modem painting got me out of my predica- 
ment, taking care of all the details this involved. He spoke to the 
authorities; he called up a good many people. I don’t know how 
many marvelous paintings he failed to paint on account of me. I 
felt very badly that he was losing time so precious to him. 

A congress for peace was meeting in Paris at this time. I showed 
up at the congress at the last minute, just to read one of my 
poems. All the delegates applauded and embraced me. Many had 
thought me dead. They couldn’t imagine how I had dodged the 
relentless persecution of the Chilean police. 

On the following day Alderete, a veteran newspaperman for 
France-Presse, dropped in at my hotel. “When the press gave out 
the news that you were in Paris,” he said, “the Chilean govern- 
ment roundly denied it. Your double had showed up here; Pablo 
Neruda was in Chile, they were hot on his trail, it was only a 
matter of hours till his arrest. What should we answer back?” 

I recalled that during an argument about whether Shakespeare 
had or had not written his works, a preposterous and finespun 
discussion, Mark Twain had chipped in: “It wasn’t William 
Shakespeare who really wrote those plays, but another English- 
man who was bom on the same day at the same hour as he, and 
who died on the same day, and, to carry the coincidences still 
further, was also named William Shakespeare.” 

“Say that I am not Pablo Neruda,” I told the newspaperman, 
“but another Chilean who writes poetry, fights for freedom, and 
is also called Pablo Neruda.” 

Getting my papers straightened out was not easy. Aragon and 
Paul Eluard were helping me. In the meantime, I had to lead a 
semi-clandestine life. 

One of the places where I took shelter was Mme Fran9oise 
Giroux’s home. I shall never forget this highly original and intelli- 
gent lady. Her apartment was in the Palais-Royal, next door to 

Colette’s. She had adopted a little Vietnamese boy. The French 
army was doing the work the North Americans would take over 
later on: killing innocent people in far-off Vietnam. So she 
adopted the child. 

I remember that one of the most beautiful Picassos 1 have ever 
seen was in this house. It was a very large painting, from his pre- 
cubist period. It showed a pair of red plush drapes, falling, coming 
together like the two halves of a window, above a table. A loaf of 
long, French bread spanned the table from end to end. The paint- 
ing inspired reverence. The enormous loaf of bread on the table 
was like the central figure in an ancient icon, or like El Greco’s St. 
Maurice in El Escorial. I gave the painting my own title: The 
Ascension of the Holy Bread. 

One day Picasso himself came to visit me in my hideout. I led 
him over to the painting he’d done so many years before. He had 
forgotten it completely. He started going over it very earnestly, 
sinking into an extraordinary and rather sad absorption very sel- 
dom seen in him. He spent more than ten minutes in silence, 
stepping up close to the forgotten work and then back. 

“I like it more all the time,” I said to him when he ended his 
contemplation. “I am going to suggest that my country’s national 
museum buy it. Madame Giroux is prepared to sell it to us.” 

Picasso turned his head toward the painting once more, his eyes 
piercing the magnificent loaf, and his only comment was: “It’s 
not bad at all.” 

I found a house for rent that seemed an extravagance to me. It 
was on Pierre-Mille Street, in the fifteenth arrondissevtent, that is, 
to hell and gone. It was a neighborhood of workers and poor 
people. You had to travel for hours on the Metro to get there. 
What attracted me to the house was that it looked like a cage. It 
had three floors, tiny hallways and rooms. It was a tall bird cage 
defying description. 

The ground floor, which was the largest and had a wood- 
burning stove, I made into a library and a room for entertaining, 
which I did from time to time. Some friends, almost all Chileans, 
moved into the upper floors. Jose Venturelli and Nemesio Antu- 
nez, painters both, and others I can’t remember, stayed there. 

About this time, I received a visit from three outstanding fig- 
ures in Soviet literature: the poet Nikolai Tikhonov, the play- 


My Country in Darkness 

wright Alexander Korneichuk (who was also a government 
official in the Ukraine), and the novelist Konstantin Simonov. I 
had never seen them before. They embraced me like a long-lost 
brother. And, besides a hug, each gave me a resounding kiss, one 
of those Slavic kisses between men that are a sign of friendship 
and respect, and which I had a hard time getting used to. Years 
later, when I understood the meaning of those brotherly, mascu- 
line kisses, I had occasion once to begin an anecdote with these 
words: “The first man who ever kissed me was a Czechoslovakian 
consul . . .” 

The Chilean government did not want me. Did not want me at 
home or abroad. Wherever I went, I was preceded by notes and 
telephone calls asking other governments to make things difficult 
for me. 

I found out that there was a file on me at the Quai d’Orsay 
which said, roughly: “Neruda and his wife, Delia del Carril, make 
frequent trips to Spain, carrying Soviet instructions back and 
forth. They receive these instructions from the Russian writer 
Ilya Ehrenburg, with whom Neruda also makes clandestine trips 
to Spain. In order to keep closer contact with Ehrenburg, Neruda 
has rented and moved into an apartment in the same building 
where the Soviet writer lives.” 

It was a string of lies. Jean Richard Bloch gave me a letter for a 
friend of his who was an important official in the Ministry of 
Foreign Relations. I explained to the functionary that they were 
trying to get me deported from France on the basis of the wildest 
assumptions. I told him that I was very eager to meet Ehrenburg 
but, unfortunately, had not yet had the honor. The important 
functionary threw me a look of pity and promised to investigate. 
This was never done, however, and the absurd charges were 
allowed to stand. 

So I decided to introduce myself to Ehrenburg. I knew he went 
to La Coupole every day, where he lunched at a Russian hour, 
that is, around sundown. “I’m Pablo Neruda, the poet, from 
Chile,” I said to him. “According to the police, we’re close 
friends. They claim that I live in the same building as you. Since 
they’re going to throw me out of France because of you, I wish 
to meet you, at least, and shake hands.” 

I don’t believe Ehrenburg ever blinked at any phenomenon in 



the world. And yet I saw something very much like a look of 
stupefaction emerging from his shaggy brows, from under his 
angry mop of gray hair. “I also wanted to meet you, Neruda,” he 
said. “I like your poetry. But, to begin with, have some of this 
choucroute a /’ Alsacienne.” 

From then on, we became great friends. I believe he began to 
translate my Espana en el corazon that same day. I must admit 
that the French police unintentionally provided me with one of 
the most gratifying friendships I have ever had, and also presented 
me with the most eminent of my Russian translators. 

One day, Jules Supervielle came to see me. By then I had a legal 
Chilean passport in my own name. The aging and noble Uru- 
guayan poet very seldom went out any more. I was touched and 
surprised by his visit. 

“I’ve brought you an important message. My son-in-law, Ber- 
taux, wants to see you. I don’t know what it’s about.” 

Bertaux was the chief of police. We went to his office. The old 
poet and I sat down facing the officer across his desk. I have 
never seen more telephones on one table. How many were there? 
No fewer than twenty, I believe. His intelligent and shrewd face 
looked at me across the forest of telephones. I was sure every 
line to Paris’s underground life was there on that overloaded spot. 
I thought of Fantomas and Inspector Maigret. 

The chief of police had read my books and knew my poetry 
surprisingly well. 

“I’ve received a request from the Chilean ambassador to take 
away your passport. The ambassador claims that you are using a 
diplomatic passport, and that would be illegal. Is this information 

“I don’t have a diplomatic passport,” I replied. “This is simply 
an official passport. I am a senator in my country, and as such, I 
have a right to this document. What’s more, here it is. You may 
examine but not take it away, because it is my private property.” 

“Is it up to date? Who renewed it?” Monsieur Bertaux asked 
me, taking my passport. 

“It’s up to date, of course,” I said to him. “As for saying who 
renewed it, that’s something I can’t do. The Chilean government 
would remove that official.” 

My Country in Darkness 

< 9 ' 

The chief of police examined my papers slowly. Then he 
picked up one of his numberless telephones and asked to be put 
through to the Chilean ambassador. The telephone conversation 
took place in my presence. 

“No, Mr. Ambassador, I cannot do it. His passport is in order. I 
don’t know who renewed it. I repeat, it would be wrong to take 
away his papers. I cannot, Mr. Ambassador. I am very sorry.” 

TTte ambassador’s insistence was plain, and a slight note of irri- 
tation was also evident in Bertaux’s voice. He finally put down 
the receiver and said to me: “He seems to be your determined 
enemy. But you can stay in France as long as you wish.” 

I left with Supervielle. The old poet couldn’t quite understand 
what was going on. For my part, a feeling of triumph mingled 
with revulsion went through me. The ambassador who was ha- 
rassing me, collaborating with my persecutor in Chile, was the 
same Joaquin Fernandez who boasted of his friendship with me 
and who never passed up a chance to play up to me, who that 
same morning had sent me a little affectionate message via the 
Guatemalan ambassador. 


Ehrenburg, who was reading and translating my poems, scolded 
me: too much root, too many roots in your poems. Why so 

It’s true. The frontier regions sank their roots into my poetry 
and these roots have never been able to wrench themselves out. 
My life is a long pilgrimage that is always turning on itself, al- 
ways returning to the woods in the south, to the forest lost to me. 

There the huge trees were sometimes felled by their seven hun- 
dred years of powerful life, uprooted by storms, blighted by the 
snow, or destroyed by fire. I have heard titanic trees crashing 
deep in the forest: the oak tree plunging down with the sound of 
a muffled cataclysm, as if pounding with a giant hand on the 
earth’s doors, asking for burial. 

But the roots are left out in the open, exposed to their enemy, 
time, to the dampness, to the lichens, to one destruction after the 

Nothing more beautiful than those huge, open hands, wounded 

I 9 2 


or burned, that tell us, when we come across them on a forest 
path, the secret of the buried tree, the mystery that nourished 
the leaves, the deep-reaching muscles of the vegetable kingdom. 
Tragic and shaggy, they show us a new beauty: they are sculp- 
tures molded by the depths of the earth: nature’s secret master- 

Once Rafael Alberti and I were walking together, with water- 
falls, thickets, and woods all around us, near Osorno, and he 
pointed out that each branch was different from the next, the 
leaves seemed to be competing for an infinite variety of style. 
“They look as if they had been selected by a landscape gardener 
for a magnificent park,” he said. Years later, in Rome, Rafael 
remembered that walk and the natural abundance of our forests. 

That is what it was like. It isn’t, not any more. I grow sad, 
thinking of my wanderings as a boy and as a young man, between 
Boroa and Carahue, or around Token in the hills along the coast. 
How many discoveries! The graceful bearing and the fragrance 
of the cinnamon tree after the rain, the mosses whose winter 
beard hangs from the forest’s innumerable faces! 

I pushed aside the fallen leaves, trying to uncover the lightning 
streak of some beetles: the golden carabus, who dresses in irides- 
cence to dance a minuscule ballet under the roots. 

Or later, when I rode across the mountains to the Argentine 
side, under the green domes of the giant trees, an obstacle loomed 
up ahead: the root of one of them, taller than our mounts, block- 
ing our way. Strenuous work and the ax made the crossing pos- 
sible. Those roots were like overturned cathedrals: greatness laid 
bare to overwhelm us with its grandeur. 

Beginning and End of Exile 


I N 1949, my exile just over, I was invited for the first time to the 
Soviet Union, to the celebration of Pushkin’s sesquicentennial. 
The twilight and I came at the same time to my appointment with 
the cold pearl of the Baltic, the ancient, new, noble, heroic Lenin- 
grad. The city of Peter the Great and Lenin the Great has “angel,” 
like Paris. A gray angel: steel-colored avenues, lead-colored stone 
palaces, and a steel-green sea. The most magnificent museums in 
the world, the treasures of the Tsars, their paintings, their uni- 
forms, their dazzling jewels, their ceremonial dress, their weapons, 
their tableware, were all before my eyes. And the new, immortal 
mementos: the cruiser Aurora, whose cannons backed Lenin’s 
thought, knocked down the walls of the past, and opened history’s 

I was there for an appointment with a poet dead over a hundred 
years, Alexander Pushkin, author of imperishable legends and 
novels. This prince of poets of the people holds the heart of the 
great Soviet Union. To celebrate his sesquicentennial, the Russians 
had reconstructed the palace of the Tsars, stone by stone. Each 
wall had been rebuilt exactly as it had existed in the past, rising 
again from the dusty rubble to which it had been reduced by Nazi 
artillery. The old blueprints of the palace, the documents of the 
times, were consulted to reconstruct the luminous windows, the 



embroidered cornices, the flowery capitals. To build a museum in 
honor of an extraordinary poet of another era. 

What first impressed me in the U.S.S.R. was the feeling of 
immensity it gives, of unity within that vast country’s population, 
the movements of the birches on the plains, the huge forests so 
miraculously unspoiled, the great rivers, the horses running like 
waves across the wheat fields. 

I loved the Soviet land at first sight, and I realized that not only 
does it offer a moral lesson for every corner of the globe where 
human life exists, a way of comparing possibilities, an ever in- 
creasing progress in working together and sharing, but I sensed, 
too, that an extraordinary flight would begin from this land of 
steppes, which preserved so much natural purity. The entire 
human race knows that a colossal truth is being worked out there, 
and the whole world awaits eagerly to see what will happen. Some 
wait in terror, others simply wait, still others believe they can see 
what is coming. 

I was in the middle of a forest where thousands of peasants in 
traditional festive costumes were listening to Pushkin’s poems. 
Everything hummed with life: men, leaves, vast stretches of land 
where the new wheat was beginning to show its first signs of life. 
Nature seemed to form a triumphant union with man. Out of 
those poems of Pushkin’s in the Mikhailovsky forest, the man 
who would fly to other planets must inevitably rise. 

A heavy rain came down while the peasants were at the cele- 
bration. A lightning bolt struck close to us, charring a man and 
the tree sheltering him. It all seemed a part of the torrential natural 
scene. What’s more, that poetry accompanied by rain was already 
in my books, it concerned me. 

The Soviet countryside is steadily changing. Huge cities and 
canals are under construction; the geography itself is altering. But 
even on that first visit I recognized the affinities that linked me to 
them, and also everything that seemed beyond my grasp or farthest 
from my spirit. 

In Moscow, writers live in constant ferment, a continual ex- 
change of ideas. There, long before the scandalmongering West 
discovered it, I learned that Pasternak and Mayakovsky were the 
best Soviet poets. Mayakovsky was the public poet, with thunder- 



Beginmng and End of Exile 

mg voice and a countenance like bronze, a magnanimous heart 
that revolutionized language and met head-on the most difficult 
problems in political poetry. Pasternak was a great poet of eve- 
ning shadows, of metaphysical inwardness, and politically an 
honest reactionary who in the transformation of his country saw 
no further than an enlightened deacon. Yet the severest critics of 
his static political views often recited Pasternak’s poems to me 
by heart. 

The existence of a Soviet dogmatism in the arts for long periods 
of time cannot be denied, but it should also be mentioned that this 
dogmatism was always considered a defect and combated openly. 
With the critical essays of Zhdanov, a brilliant dogmatist, the 
personality cult produced a serious hardening in attitude toward 
the development of Soviet culture. But there were rebuttals from 
every quarter, and we know that life is stronger and more obsti- 
nate than precepts. The revolution is life; precepts prepare their 
own grave. 

Ehrenburg is advanced in age but is still one of the most genuine 
and ebullient of the great agitators of Soviet culture. I often 
visited my good friend at his apartment on Gorky Street, where 
Picasso paintings and lithographs lined the walls, or at his dacha 
near Moscow. Ehrenburg has a passion for plants and is almost 
always in his garden pulling weeds and conclusions out of every- 
thing that grows around him. 

Later the poet Kirsanov, who translated my poetry into Rus- 
sian so admirably, became a good friend of mine. Like all Soviet 
poets, Kirsanov is an ardent patriot. In his poetry there are bril- 
liant flashes and the rich music of the beautiful Russian language, 
which his pen releases into the air in cascades. 

Another poet I frequently visited in Moscow and in the coun- 
try was a Turk, Nazim Hikmet, a legendary writer kept in 
prison for eighteen years by his country’s bizarre governments. 
Accused of attempting to incite the Turkish navy into rebellion, 
Nazim was condemned to the punishments of hell. The trial was 
held on a warship. He told me he was forced to walk on the 
ship’s bridge until he was too weak to stay on his feet, then they 
stuck him into a section of the latrines where the excrement rose 
half a meter above the floor. My brother poet felt his strength 
failing him. The stench made him reel. Then the thought 



struck him: my tormentors are keeping an eye on me, they want 
to see me drop, they want to watch me suffer. His strength came 
back with pride. He began to sing, low at first, then louder, and 
finally at the top of his lungs. He sang all the songs, all the love 
poems he could remember, his own poems, the ballads of the 
peasants, the people’s battle hymns. He sang everything he knew. 
And so he vanquished the filth and his torturers. When he told 
me those things I said to him: “You sang for all of us, my brother. 
We need have no doubts any longer, or wonder what to do. We 
know now that we must begin to sing.” 

He also told me of the sufferings of his people. The peasants are 
brutally persecuted by feudal lords in Turkey. Nazim would see 
them arrive in prison; he would watch them swapping for to- 
bacco the crust of bread doled out to them as their daily ration. 
Eventually, they would begin looking at the grass distractedly. 
Then with closer attention, almost avidly. And one day they 
would stuff a few blades of grass into their mouths. Later 
they would pull up fistfuls and gulp them down. In the end, they 
would eat the grass on all fours, like horses. 

Passionately anti-dogmatic, Nazim has lived many long years of 
exile in the U.S.S.R. His love for this country, which took him in, 
comes tumbling out in his words: “I believe in the future of 
poetry. I believe, because I am living in the country where the 
soul craves poetry more than anything else.” Many secrets that 
people have to see for themselves vibrate in these words. The 
Soviet man, with doors open to him in all the libraries, all the 
classrooms, all the theaters, is at the center of the writers’ 
thoughts. This is something that should not be forgotten when 
the objectives of literary action come under discussion. On the 
one hand, the new forms, the urgent renewal of all that exists, 
must transcend and break down literary molds. On the other, 
how can one fail to fall in step with such a profound and far-flung 
revolution? How can one exclude from one’s central themes the 
victories, conflicts, human problems, abundances, progress, 
growth, of an immense country facing a total change in political, 
economic, and social systems? How can one not make common 
cause with a people battered by ferocious invasions, hemmed in 
by implacable colonialists, obscurantists of every stripe and color? 
Can literature or the arts assume an air of ethereal independence 
before events of such vital significance? 

Beginning and End of Exile 


The sky is white. By four in the afternoon it is black. From 
that hour on, night blankets the city. 

Moscow is a winter city. It is a beautiful city of winter. The 
snow has settled on the infinitely repeated roofs. The pavements 
shine, invariably clean. The air is hard transparent glass. A soft 
steel color, the tiny feathers of the snow swirling about, the com- 
ing and going of thousands of passers-by as if they didn’t feel the 
cold, all of it suggests a dream in which Moscow becomes a huge 
winter palace with extraordinary ornamentations, ghostly as well 
as living ones. 

It is thirty degrees below zero in this Moscow set like a star of 
fire and snow, a burning heart, in the earth’s breast. 

I look out the window. There’s an honor guard in the streets. 
What is happening? Even the snow is motionless where it has 
fallen. It is the great Vishinsky’s funeral. The streets clear sol- 
emnly to let the procession pass. A profound silence settles down, 
a peacefulness in the heart of winter, for the great soldier. Vishin- 
sky’s fire returns to the roots of the Soviet mother country. 

The soldiers who presented arms as the procession went past 
remain in formation. From time to time, one of them performs a 
little jig, raising his gloved hands and stomping his high boots for 
a second. Other than this, they seem immutable. 

A Spanish friend told me that during World War II, immedi- 
ately after a bombing, on the most intensely cold days, the 
Muscovites could be seen eating ice cream in the streets. “I knew 
then that they would win the war,” my friend said, “when I saw 
them eating ice cream so calmly in the middle of a horrifying war 
and in below-zero weather.” 

The trees in the park, white with snow, are frosted over. Noth- 
ing can match these crystallized petals in the parks, during the 
Moscow winter. The sun makes them translucent, drawing white 
flames from them, but not one drop melts from their flower pat- 
terns. This is an arborescent world that lets us glimpse, through 
its spring garden of snow, the Kremlin’s ancient towers, the thou- 
sand-year-old slender spires, the golden domes of St. Basil’s. 

After leaving the outskirts of Moscow, on the way to another 
city, I see broad white highways. They are frozen rivers. On 
those still river beds the silhouetted figure of a fisherman absorbed 

in himself appears, from time to time, like a fly on a glossy table- 
cloth. The fisherman halts at that long frozen sheet, picks out a 
spot, and drills the ice until he has an opening through which the 
buried current can be seen. He can’t catch anything right away 
because the fish have fled, frightened by the iron that made the 
hole. Then the fisherman sprinkles a little food to lure the run- 
aways back. He drops his hook and waits. He waits for hours on 
end in that hellish cold. 

The work of writers, I say, has much in common with the 
work of these Arctic fishermen. The writer has to look for the 
river, and if he finds it frozen over, he has to drill a hole in the ice. 
He must have a good deal of patience, weather the cold and the 
adverse criticism, stand up to ridicule, look for the deep water, 
cast the proper hook, and after all that work, he pulls out a tiny 
little fish. So he must fish again, facing the cold, the water, the 
critic, eventually landing a bigger fish, and another and another. 

I was invited to a writers’ congress. In the seats of honor were 
the great fishermen, the great writers of the Soviet Union. 
Fadeyev with his white smile and his silver hair; Fedin with the 
face of an English fisherman, thin and sharp; Ehrenburg with his 
turbulent shock of hair and his suit which, even when worn for 
the first time, gives the impression of having been slept in; Ti- 

Also on the dais, with Mongolian features and their recently 
printed books, were the spokesmen of the farthest Soviet repub- 
lics, peoples I had never even heard mentioned by name before, 
nomad countries with no alphabets. 


In 1950 I had to make a sudden visit to India. In Paris, Joliot- 
Curie sent for me to ask me to go on a mission. I was to travel to 
New Delhi, get in touch with people of different political views, 
gauge on the spot the chances of strengthening the Indian move- 
ment for peace. 

Joliot-Curie was the world president of the Partisans for Peace. 
We had a long talk. He was worried because pacifist opinion 
carried so little weight in India, although India had always been 
widely known as the pacifist country par excellence. The Prime 


Beginning and End of Exile 

Minister himself, Nehru, was generally recognized as a leading 
advocate of peace, a time-honored and deep-rooted cause in that 

Joliot-Curie handed me two letters: one for a scientist in Bom- 
bay, and the other to be delivered personally to the Prime Minis- 
ter. It seemed strange to me that I should be the one picked for such 
a long trip and a task apparently so simple. Perhaps my enduring 
love for that country, where I had spent some years in my youth, 
had something to do with it. Or else the fact that I had received 
the Peace Prize that same year for Que despierte el lenador, a 
distinction accorded Pablo Picasso and Nazim Hikmet also. 

I boarded the plane for Bombay. I was going back to India 
thirty years later. It was no longer a colony fighting for its eman- 
cipation, but a sovereign republic: the dream of Gandhi, whose 
first congresses I had attended in 1928. Perhaps none of my 
friends from those days were alive, revolutionary students who 
had confided their stories of struggle to me, like brothers. 

I got off the plane and headed straight for customs. From there 
I would go to some hotel, deliver the letter to the physicist 
Raman, and go on to New Delhi. I hadn’t counted on my hosts. 
My suitcases were taking forever to get out of the place. A num- 
ber of people I thought were customs inspectors were going 
through my baggage with a fine-tooth comb. I had seen many 
inspections, but never one like this. My luggage did not amount 
to much, only a medium-sized suitcase with my clothes, and a 
small leather bag containing my toilet articles. But my trousers, 
my shorts, my shoes were lifted out and checked over by five 
pairs of eyes. Pockets and seams were explored with meticulous 
attention. In Rome I had wrapped my shoes, so as not to soil my 
clothes, in a wrinkled newspaper I had found in my hotel room. I 
believe it was the Osservatore Romano. They spread the page on 
a table, held it up to the light, folded it as carefully as if it were a 
secret document, and finally put it aside with some of my papers. 
My shoes were also studied inside and out, like unique samples of 
fabulous fossils. 

This incredible search lasted two hours. They made an elabo- 
rate bundle with my papers (passport, address book, the letter I 
was to hand the head of state, and the page from the Osservatore 



Romano) and ceremoniously secured it with sealing wax before 
my eyes. Then I was told I could go on to a hotel. 

Using all my will power so as not to lose our proverbial Chilean 
patience, I remarked that no hotel would allow me to register 
without identification papers and that the object of my trip to 
India was to hand the Prime Minister a letter, which I could not 
deliver because they had confiscated it. 

“We’ll talk to the hotel and they will take you in. As for the 
papers, we’ll return them to you in due time.” 

This was the country whose struggle for independence was 
part of my experience as a young man, I thought. I shut my 
suitcase and my mouth simultaneously. A single word crossed my 
mind: Shit! 

At the hotel I ran into Professor Baera and told him of my 
mishaps. He was a good-natured Hindu. He passed these incidents 
off lightly. He had a tolerant attitude toward his country, which 
he considered still in the process of formation. I, on the other 
hand, saw something perverse in that chaos, something very far 
from the welcome I had expected from a newly independent 

Joliot-Curie’s friend, to whom I had brought a letter of intro- 
duction, was the director of nuclear-physics studies in India. He 
invited me to visit their installations, adding that we had been 
asked to lunch that same day by the Prime Minister’s sister. Such 
has been my luck, and such it continues to be, all my life: one 
hand rams me in the ribs with a club, and the other offers me a 
bouquet of flowers to make up for it. 

The Institute for Nuclear Research was one of those clean, 
bright, luminous places where men and women dressed in gauzy 
white circulate like running water, crossing corridors, steering 
their way around instruments, blackboards, and trays. I under- 
stood only a small part of the scientific explanations, but the visit 
was a purifying bath that washed off the stains of humiliation 
suffered at the bands of the police. I have a dim memory of seeing 
what looked like a bowl with some mercury in it. Nothing more 
surprising than this metal, which displays its energy like some 
form of animal life. Its mobility, its capacity for liquid, spherical, 
magical transformation, has always caught my imagination. 

Beginning and End of Exile 


I have forgotten the name of Nehru’s sister, with whom we had 
lunch that day. My ill humor dissipated in her presence. She was a 
woman of great beauty, made up and dressed like an exotic 
actress. Her sari flashed with color. Gold and pearls heightened 
her air of opulence. 1 took to her immediately. It was quite a 
contrast to see such a refined woman eating with her hand, stick- 
ing her long, jeweled fingers into the rice and curry sauce. I told 
her I was on my way to New Delhi to see her brother and the 
friends of world peace. She replied that, in her opinion, all the 
people of India should join the movement. 

At the hotel that afternoon I was given the packet with my 
papers. The double-faced police had broken the sealing wax they 
themselves had affixed to it after packing up the documents in 
front of me. They must have photographed them all, including 
my laundry bills. I eventually found out that the people whose 
addresses were in my book had all been visited and interrogated by 
the police. Among them was Ricardo Giiiraldes’s widow, who 
was my sister-in-law then. This shallow woman was a theos- 
ophist, and her one passion was the Asian philosophies; she lived 
in a remote Indian village. She was subjected to a good deal of 
harassment because her name was in my address book. 

In New Delhi I met with six or seven of the Indian capital’s 
leading personalities the very day of my arrival, sitting under a 
sunshade for protection from the celestial fire. They were writers, 
philosophers, Hindu or Buddhist priests, the kind of Indians who 
are so adorably simple, so stripped of all pretension. Everyone 
agreed that the supporters of the peace movement were acting 
in the spirit of their ancient country, with its unbroken tradi- 
tion of goodness and understanding. They wisely added that 
they thought any sectarian or hegemonic leanings should be cor- 
rected: neither the Communists nor the Buddhists nor the middle 
class should arrogate the movement. The important thing, the 
crux of the matter, was that all factions should contribute. I 
agreed with them. 

The Chilean ambassador, Dr. Juan Marin, writer and physician, 
and an old friend of mine, came to see me at dinnertime. After 
many circumlocutions, he explained that he had had an interview 
with the chief of police. With the typical calmness the authorities 



adopt when talking to diplomats, the head of the Indian police 
had told him that my activities worried the Indian government 
and that he hoped I would leave the country soon. I told the am- 
bassador that my sole activity had been to speak, in the hotel’s 
garden, with six or seven eminent persons whose ideas, I as- 
sumed, were common knowledge. As for me, I said, the minute I 
deliver Joliot-Curie’s message to the Prime Minister, I’ll no longer 
be interested in staying in a country that, in spite of my proven 
sympathy for its cause, treats me so discourteously, without any 
reason whatever. 

My Ambassador had been one of the founders of the Socialist 
Party in Chile, but he had softened up, possibly because of the 
years and his diplomatic privileges. He did not resent the Indian 
government’s stupid attitude, and I did not ask him for his sup- 
port. We parted amiably— he relieved of the heavy responsibility 
my visit placed on him, and I with all my illusions about his 
sensibility and his friendship lost forever. 

Nehru had granted me an appointment for the following morn- 
ing in his office. He rose and shook my hand without any trace of 
a welcoming smile. His face has been photographed so often that 
it’s not worth the trouble of describing. Dark, cold eyes looked at 
me without feeling. Thirty years before, he and his father had been 
introduced to me at a huge rally for independence. I mentioned 
this to him, but it produced no change in his face. He replied in 
monosyllables to everything I said, scrutinizing me with his 
steady, cold eyes. 

I handed him the letter from his friend Joliot-Curie. He told me 
he had great respect for the French scientist, and took his time 
reading the letter. In it Curie spoke of me and asked Nehru to 
assist me in my mission. He finished, put the letter back into its 
envelope, and looked at me without a word. It suddenly struck 
me that my presence provoked an involuntary dislike in him. It 
also crossed my mind that this man with a bilious complexion 
must be going through a bad physical, political, or emotional ex- 
perience. There was something high and mighty about him, some- 
thing stiff, as if he was accustomed to giving orders but lacked the 
strength of a leader. I recalled that his father, Pandit Motilal, 
zamindar or landowner of the old breed of feudal lords, had been 
Gandhi’s grand treasurer and had helped the Congress movement 


Beginning and End of Exile 

not only with his political wisdom but also with his large fortune. 
I thought perhaps the silent man before me had in some subtle 
way reverted to a “zamindar” and was staring at me with the 
same indifference and contempt he would have shown one of his 
barefoot peasants. 

“What shall I tell Professor Joliot-Curie when I return to 

“I shall answer his letter,” he said dryly. 

I was silent for a few minutes that seemed an eternity. Appar- 
ently Nehru did not feel at all like saying anything more to me, 
yet he didn’t show the slightest sign of restlessness, as if it would 
have been all right for me to remain there without any reason 
whatever, squelched by the feeling that I was wasting the time of 
such an important man. 

I felt that I had to say a few words about my mission. The cold 
war threatened to turn red hot at any moment now. A new cata- 
clysm could swallow humanity. I mentioned the terrible danger 
of nuclear weapons. And how important it was for those who 
want to avoid war to stick together. 

He continued buried in his thoughts, as if he hadn’t heard me. 
After a few moments he said, “As a matter of fact, both sides are 
pelting each other with arguments about peace.” 

“Personally,” I said, “I think all those who talk of peace or 
want to contribute something to it can belong to the same side, to 
the same movement. We don’t want to exclude anyone, except 
those who preach revenge and war.” 

There was more silence. I realized that the conversation was 
over. I rose to my feet and put out my hand to take my leave. He 
shook my hand silently. As I walked to the door, he asked, with 
some friendliness, “Can I do anything for you? Is there anything 
you would like?” 

I am very slow to react, and unfortunately for me, I am not 
malicious. However, for once in my life, I took the offensive: “Oh, 
yes! I almost forgot. I lived in India once, but I have never had a 
chance to visit the Taj Mahal, which is so close to New Delhi. 
This would have been a good time to see that magnificent monu- 
ment, if the police had not notified me that I can’t leave the city 
limits and must return to Europe as soon as possible. I am going 
back tomorrow.” 

Pleased with myself at getting in my little thrust, I said good- 



bye quickly and left the office. The hotel manager was waiting for 
me at the reception desk. “I have a message for you. They’ve just 
called from the government offices to tell me that you may visit 
the Taj Mahal whenever you wish.” 

“Get my bill ready,” I said. “I’m sorry I have to pass up that 
visit. I’m going to the airport right now, I’m taking the first plane 
to Paris.” 

Five years later, in Moscow, I had occasion to sit on the annual 
Lenin Peace Prize committee, an international assembly of which 
I was a part. When the moment came to present and vote on the 
year’s candidates, the Indian delegate proposed Prime Minister 
Nehru’s name. The shadow of a smile crossed my face, but none 
of the others on the jury understood it, and I voted affirmatively. 
The international prize consecrated Nehru as one of the cham- 
pions of world peace. 


I visited China twice after the Revolution. The first time was in 
1951, the year I was one of those commissioned to take the Lenin 
Peace Prize to Madam Soong Ch’ing-ling, Sun Yat-sen’s widow. 

She was receiving the gold medal for which she had been pro- 
posed by Kuo Mo-jo, Vice Premier of China and a writer. Kuo 
Mo-jo was also vice chairman of the prize committee, together 
with Aragon. Anna Seghers, the filmmaker Alexandrov, several 
others I don’t remember, Ehrenburg, and I were also on the jury. 
There was a secret alliance between Aragon, Ehrenburg, and me 
which had enabled us to see that the prize was given, in other 
years, to Picasso, Bertolt Brecht, and Rafael Alberti. It had not 
been easy, of course. 

We left for China on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Getting into 
that legendary train was like boarding a ship that sailed on land 
into infinite and mysterious distances. Everything around me was 
yellow, for leagues and leagues, on either side of the window. It 
was mid-autumn and all we could see were silver birches with 
their yellow petals. And then, farther than the eye could see, the 
prairie, tundra, or taiga. From time to time, the stations of new 
cities. Ehrenburg and I would get out to stretch our legs. At the 
stations, peasants crowded in the waiting rooms with their 
bundles and suitcases, waiting for the train. 


Beginning and End of Exile 

We barely had time to walk around a little in those places. 
They were all the same; each had a statue of Stalin, made of 
cement. Sometimes it was painted silver, and sometimes gold. Of 
the dozens we saw, all exactly alike, I don’t know which was 
uglier, the silver or the gilt. Back on the train, Ehrenburg enter- 
tained me for a whole week with his skeptical and witty conversa- 
tion. He was a deeply patriotic Russian, but he discussed many 
aspects of life in that era, smiling sardonically. 

He had arrived in Berlin with the Red Army. He was undoubt- 
edly the most brilliant war correspondent there has ever been. 
The Red soldiers loved this eccentric, shy man. Not long before, 
in Moscow, he had shown me two presents those soldiers had 
given him^ after unearthing them from the German ruins. They 
were a rifle made by Belgian gunsmiths for Napoleon Bonaparte, 
and two minuscule volumes of the works of Ronsard, printed in 
France in 1650. The little volumes were singed, and stained with 
rain or blood. 

Ehrenburg donated Napoleon’s beautiful rifle to the French 
museums. “What do I want it for?” he said to me, stroking the 
tooled cannon and the burnished gunstock. But Ronsard’s tiny 
books he lovingly kept for himself. 

Ehrenburg was an ardent Francophile. On the train he recited 
one of his clandestine poems for me. It was a short love song to 
France, addressing her as the woman he loved. 

I call the poem clandestine because this was the era when accu- 
sations of cosmopolitanism were rife in Russia. Newspapers often 
carried charges of obscurantism; all modem art seemed cosmo- 
politan to them. Such and such a writer or painter would fall into 
disgrace and suddenly have his name obliterated, under such a 
charge. Thus, like a hidden flower, Ehrenburg’s Francophile 
poem had to keep its tenderness to itself. 

Much of what Ehrenburg showed me would soon disappear 
forever during Stalin’s dark night, disappearances I tended to 
blame on their dissident and contradictory character. 

With his unruly locks, deep wrinkles, nicotine-stained teeth, 
cold gray eyes, and melancholy smile, Ehrenburg was the old 
skeptic, the great disillusioned man. I had recently opened my 
eyes to the great revolution and was blind to sinister details. I 
found little to quarrel with in the general poor taste of the time 
or in those statues smeared with gold and silver. Time would prove 



that I was not right, but I don’t think even Ehrenburg fully 
realized the immensity of the tragedy. Its magnitude would be 
revealed to us all by the Twentieth Congress. 

The train seemed to move over the yellow stretches at a snail’s 
pace, day after day, birch after birch. We had passed the Ural 
Mountains and were crossing Siberia. 

We were having lunch in the dining car one day, when a table 
occupied by a soldier caught my eye. He was very drunk. He 
was a smiling young fellow whose cheeks bloomed with health. 
He kept ordering raw eggs from the waiter which he would 
break and drop on his plate with glee. Then he would im- 
mediately ask for a couple more. Judging by his ecstatic grin 
and his childish blue eyes, he was feeling mellower all the time. 
And he must have been at it for quite some time, because the yolks 
and whites were beginning to slide dangerously over the side of 
his plate, falling onto the floor of the car. “Tovarich! ” The soldier 
called out to the waiter with enthusiasm and ordered new eggs to 
increase his treasure. 

My eyes were fastened eagerly on this surrealist scene, so inno- 
cent and so unexpected in that Siberian emptiness, an oceanic 

The alarmed waiter finally called a military policeman. The 
guard, who was heavily armed, looked down at the soldier 
sternly, towering over him. But the soldier took no notice and 
went on busily breaking more and more eggs. I fully expected 
the policeman to jolt the wastrel out of his daydream. But I 
couldn’t believe my eyes. The herculean guard sat down next to 
the boy, stroked his blond head tenderly, and began talking to 
him quietly, smiling, convincing him. Then he suddenly lifted 
him gently from his seat and led him away by the arm, like an 
older brother, through the car door to the station and into the 
streets of the town. 

I thought bitterly of what would have happened to a poor 
drunken Indian if he had started breaking eggs on a trans-equa- 
torial train. 

During those trans-Siberian days, Ehrenburg could be heard 
energetically hammering away, morning and afternoon, at his 


Beginning and End of Exile 

typewriter keys. There he finished The Ninth Wave, his last 
novel before The Thaw. For my part, I wrote, only sporadically, 
some of Los versos del capitan, love poems for Matilde, published 
anonymously later in Naples. 

We left the train in Irkutsk. Before catching the plane for 
Mongolia, we went down for a stroll by the lake, celebrated 
Lake Baikal at the border of Siberia, the door to freedom in the 
rime of the Tsars. The thoughts and dreams of prisoners and 
exiles wandered off toward that lake. It was the only possible 
way of escape. Baikal! Baikal! Low-pitched Russian voices still 
repeat it now, singing the old ballads. 

The Institute for the Study of Lakes invited us to lunch. The 
scientists let us in on their secrets. No one has ever been able to 
determine the exact depth of this lake, son and eye of the Ural 
Mountains. Some unusual fish are taken from two thousand feet 
down, blind fish pulled out of its night-black depths. My appetite 
was whetted immediately and I asked the scientists if I could try a 
couple of those exotic fish at table. I am one of the few persons in 
the world who has eaten fish from those abysses, washed down 
with good Siberian vodka. 

From there we flew to Mongolia. I have a hazy memory of that 
lunar landscape whose inhabitants still live in nomad’s tents, while 
they establish their first printing presses, their first universities. 
On all sides of Ulan Bator a circular, infinite wasteland opens out, 
like the Atacama Desert in my country, interrupted only by clus- 
ters of camels that make the solitude more archaic. Incidentally, I 
tasted Mongolian whiskey, in magnificently wrought silver cups. 
Every people makes its alcoholic beverages from what they can. 
This one was made of fermented camel’s milk. Shivers still run up 
and down my spine when I recall its taste. But how wonderful to 
have been in Ulan Bator! More so for someone like me who lives 
in all beautiful names. I live in them as in dream mansions intended 
just for me. And so I have lived, relishing every syllable, in Singa- 
pore’s, in Samarkand’s names. When I die, I want to be buried in a 
name, some especially chosen, beautiful-sounding name, so that its 
syllables will sing over my bones, near the sea. 

The Chinese are among the people in the world who smile the 
most. They smile through implacable colonialism, revolutions. 



famines, massacres, as no other people can. The smile of Chinese 
children is the most beautiful harvest of rice ever threshed by this 
immense populace. 

But there are two kinds of Chinese smiles. There is a natural 
one that lights up the wheat-colored faces. This is the smile of the 
peasants and the vast majority of people. The other is a detach- 
able, false smile that can be pasted on below the nose, and taken 
off. It’s the smile of the officials. 

When Ehrenburg and I landed for the first time at the Peking 
airport, it was hard for us to tell the two kinds of smiles apart. 
The real, the best ones, went around with us for many days. 
These were the smiles of our Chinese fellow writers, novelists and 
poets who welcomed us with noble hospitality. So we met Ting 
Ling, novelist, Stalin Prize winner, chairman of the Writers’ 
Union; Mao Tung, Siao Emi, and charming Ai Ch’ing, old Com- 
munist and prince of Chinese poets. They spoke French or En- 
glish. They were all dragged under by the Cultural Revolution 
years later. But at the time of our visit they were the flower of 
Chinese literature. 

The next day, after the award-giving ceremony for the Lenin 
Prize, called the Stalin Prize then, we dined at the Soviet Em- 
bassy. In addition to the lady being honored, there was Chou En- 
lai, old Marshal Chu Teh, and several others. The ambassador had 
been a hero of Stalingrad, a typical Soviet soldier, who sang and 
called for one toast after another. I was seated next to Soong 
Ch’ing-ling, very dignified and still quite beautiful. She was the 
most respected female personality of the day. 

Each of us had a small crystal decanter filled with vodka all to 
himself. There were frequent calls of “ Kanpai a Chinese toast 
that obliges you to drain your glass at one gulp, without leaving a 
drop. Old Marshal Chu Teh, across from me, never stopped fill- 
ing his glass and, with his wide peasant's grin, egged me on to a 
new toast every few minutes. At the end of the meal, I chose 
a moment when the old strategist’s attention was diverted, to try a 
drink from his bottle of vodka. My suspicions were confirmed. I 
discovered that the Marshal had been drinking just water with his 
meal, while I was gulping down large quantities of liquid fire. 

At coffee time, my neighbor at table, Soong Ch’ing-ling, Sun 
Yat-sen’s widow, the marvelous woman we had come to honor, 


Beginning and End of Exile 

drew a cigarette out of her case. Then, with an exquisite smile, 
she held it out to me. “No, I don’t smoke, thank you,” I said to 
her. I admired her cigarette case, and she said, “I keep it as a 
memento of something very important in my life.” It was a stun- 
ning object, solid gold, studded with diamonds and rubies. After 
examining it with great care and praising it once again, I returned 
it to its owner. 

She forgot very quickly that I had given it back to her, because 
as we rose from the table she turned to me with a piercing look 
and said, “My cigarette case, please?” 

I was positive I had returned it to her, but looked for it, any- 
way, on the table, then under it, without success. Sun Yat-sen’s 
widow’s smile had vanished and two black eyes pierced through 
me like implacable rays of light. The sacred object could not be 
found anywhere, and I was starting to feel absurdly responsible 
for its loss. Those two black rays were about to convince me that 
I was a jewel thief. 

Fortunately, when I could bear it no longer, I saw the cigarette 
case reappear in her hands. She had simply found it in her bag, of 
course. She recovered her smile, but I did not smile again for ages. 
Now I have an idea that the Cultural Revolution probably re- 
lieved her of the lovely gold cigarette case for good. 

At that time of year the Chinese wore blue, blue mechanic’s 
coveralls that clothed men and women alike, giving them a unani- 
mous, sky-blue look. No ragged clothing. But no automobiles 
either. Thick crowds packed every place, flowed in from every- 

It was the second year of the Revolution. There must have 
been shortages and difficulties in many places, but these were not 
noticeable in our tours of Peking. What particularly bothered 
Ehrenburg and me were small details, small tics in the system. 
When we wanted to buy a pair of socks and a handkerchief, it 
turned into a problem of state. Our Chinese comrades discussed it 
among themselves. After nervous deliberation on their part, we 
left the hotel in a caravan. Our car was in the lead, with those of 
the guards, the police, the interpreters bringing up the rear. The 
flock of cars roared off, opening its way through the crowd, 
which was always dense. We rolled like an avalanche down the 



narrow channel opened by the people. When we reached the 
store, our Chinese friends jumped out, quickly herded all cus- 
tomers out of the store, halted traffic, formed a barrier with their 
bodies, a human passageway Ehrenburg and I went through with 
our heads down, to come out fifteen minutes later, our heads down 
once more, each with a little package in his hands, firmly de- 
termined never to buy another pair of socks in China. 

These things used to infuriate Ehrenburg. Take the case of a 
restaurant, which I’m going to relate now. At the hotel they 
would serve us the awful English food China inherited from its 
colonial rulers. I am a great admirer of Chinese cooking and I told 
my young interpreter that I was dying to try Peking’s famous 
cuisine. He replied that he would check into it. 

I don’t know whether he really did, but we had to go on 
chomping on the hotel’s dull roast beef. I spoke to him about 
it again. He looked thoughtful and said to me, “Our comrades 
have met together several times to look into the situation. The 
problem is about to be solved.” 

On the following day an important member of the welcoming 
committee came to see us. After putting his smile on right, he 
asked if we really wanted to eat Chinese food. Ehrenburg said 
yes, definitely. I added that I had been familiar with Cantonese 
food since boyhood and was eager to taste the truly famous 
Peking condiments. 

“This is somewhat of a problem,” the Chinese comrade said, 
with a worried air. Silence. A shake of his head. Then he went 
on: “Almost impossible.” 

Ehrenburg smiled his confirmed skeptic’s wry smile. I, on the 
other hand, was fit to be tied. “Comrade,” I said to him, “please 
prepare my papers for my return to Paris. If I can’t have Chinese 
food in China, I’ll have it in the Latin Quarter, where it is not a 

My violent response got results. Four hours later, with our 
numerous committee leading the way, we arrived at a famous 
restaurant where they had prepared glazed duck for five hundred 
years. An exquisite, memorable dish. 

Open day and night, the restaurant was a short three hundred 
meters from our hotel. 

Beginning and End of Exile 


THE captain’s VERSES 

In the course of these wanderings from place to place as an exile, I 
came to a country I had never visited, and I learned to love it 
deeply: Italy. Everything in that country seemed fabulous to me. 
Especially the Italian simplicity: the olive oil, the bread and the 
wine of spontaneity. Even the police . . . The police, who never 
mistreated me but hounded me without respite. It was a police 
force I found everywhere, even in my sleep and in my soup. 

Writers invited me to read my poems. I read them, in good 
faith, everywhere, in universities, in amphitheaters, to the dock 
workers of Genoa, in Florence at the Palazzo dell’ Arte della Lana, 
in Turin, in Venice. 

I read to capacity crowds with infinite pleasure. Someone next 
to me would repeat each poem after me in the sublime Italian 
tongue, and I liked to hear my poems with the added splendor of 
that magnificent language. TTe police, however, did not like it 
very much. In Castilian, fine, but the Italian version was full of 
ellipses. Lines in praise of peace, a word already proscribed by the 
“Western” world, and especially my poetry’s slant in favor of the 
people’s struggles, were dangerous. 

In the municipal elections, the town council seats had gone to 
the people’s parties and I was received as guest of honor at the 
stately town halls. Often, I was made an honorary citizen of the 
city. This was the case in Milan, Florence, and Genoa. The coun- 
cilmen conferred their distinctions on me before or after my read- 
ings. Notables, aristocrats, and bishops would gather in the hall. 
We would drink a glass of champagne, which I accepted in behalf 
of my remote country. Between embraces and hand kissing I 
would finally make it down the front steps of the city hall. The 
police, who never gave me a moment’s rest, would be waiting for 
me in the street. 

What happened in Venice was a slapstick comedy. I gave my 
reading in the lecture hall. I was once more made an honorary 
citizen. But the police wanted me out of the city where Desde- 
mona was bom and suffered; they were stationed at the doors of 
my hotel, day and night. 

My old friend Vittorio Vidali, Commandant Carlos, had come 
from Trieste to hear my poems. He shared with me the infinite 



pleasure of riding over the canals and seeing from the gondola the 
ash-gray palaces going past. As for the police, they were pestering 
me more than ever, always at our heels, a couple of paces behind 
us. I decided to make my escape, like Casanova, from a Venice 
that was trying to bottle me up. I put on a burst of speed, with 
Vittorio Vidali and the Costa Rican writer Joaquin Gutierrez, 
who happened to be with us. Two Venetian policemen charged 
after us. We managed to jump quickly into the only gondola in 
Venice with a motor, the Communist Mayor’s. The municipal 
authority’s gondola cut swiftly through the canal waters, while 
the representatives of the other authority scurried about like deer, 
looking for a boat. They took one of the many romantic vessels, 
painted black and with gold decorations, used by lovers in Venice. 
It followed us far off, hopelessly, like a duck chasing a sea 

All this persecution came to a head one morning in Naples. The 
police came to my hotel, not very early, because in Naples no one 
goes to work early, not even the police. Using an alleged error in 
my passport as a pretext, they asked me to accompany them to 
the prefecture. There they offered me an espresso and informed 
me that I must leave Italian soil that same day. 

My love for Italy did not help me any. 

“I am sure there’s some misunderstanding,” I said. 

“Not at all. We think very highly of you, but you have to 
leave the country.” 

And then, in a roundabout way, as obliquely as possible, they let 
it be known that the Chilean Embassy was asking for my ex- 

The train was leaving that afternoon. My friends were already 
at the station to say goodbye. Kisses. Flowers. Shouts. Paolo 
Ricci. The Alicattas. Many, many others. Arrivederci. Adids. 

During my train ride to Rome, my police guards spared no 
efforts to be nice to me. They carried my suitcases aboard and 
stowed them away. They bought me L’Uniti and Paese Sera, but 
by no means the rightist newspapers. They asked me for auto- 
graphs, some for themselves and others for their relatives. I 
have never seen such well-mannered policemen: “We are sorry, 

Beginning and End of Exile z 1 3 

Eccellenza. We are poor, we have families to think of. We must 
obey orders. We hate to . . 

At the station in Rome, where I had to get off to change trains 
to go on to the border, I was able to make out an enormous crowd 
from my window. I heard shouting. I saw great commotion and 
confusion. Armfuls of flowers advanced toward the train, raised 
over a river of heads. “Pablo! Pablo! ” 

When I went down the car’s steps, elegantly guarded, 1 became 
the center of a swirling melee. In a matter of seconds, men and 
women writers, newsmen, deputies, perhaps close to a thousand 
persons, snatched me away from the hands of the police. The 
police, in turn, moved in and rescued me from the arms of my 
friends. During those dramatic moments I made out a few famous 
faces. Alberto Moravia and his wife, Elsa Morante, like him a 
novelist. The eminent painter Renato Guttuso. Other poets. 
Other painters. Carlo Levi, the celebrated author of Christ 
Stopped at Eboli, was holding out a bouquet of roses. In the midst 
of all this, flowers were spilling to the ground, hats and umbrellas 
flew, fist blows sounded like explosions. The police were getting 
the worst of it, and I was once more recovered by my friends. 
During the scuffle I had a glimpse of gentle Elsa Morante striking a 
policeman on the head with a silk parasol. Suddenly the luggage 
hand trucks were going by and I saw one of the porters, a corpu- 
lent facchino, bring a club down on a policeman’s back. These 
were the Roman people backing me up. The fray became so con- 
fused that the police pulled me aside and appealed to me: “Talk to 
your friends. Tell them to calm down . . .” 

The crowd was shouting: “Neruda stays in Rome. Neruda is 
not leaving Italy! Let the poet stay! Let the Chilean stay! Throw 
the Austrian out!” (The “Austrian” was De Gasperi, the Italian 
Prime Minister.) 

After half an hour of the fracas, a superior order arrived, grant- 
ing me permission to remain in Italy. My friends hugged and 
kissed me, and I left the station, sad to be walking on the flowers 
the battle had scattered everywhere. 

I woke up the next morning in the house of a senator with 
parliamentary immunity; I had been taken there by the painter 
Renato Guttuso, who still didn’t have much faith in the word of 



the government authorities. I received a telegram from the island 
of Capri. It had been sent by the eminent historian Edwin Cerio, 
whom I did not know personally. He expressed indignation at 
what he considered an outrage, a desecration of Italian tradition 
and culture. He ended by offering me a villa where I could stay 
on Capri. 

It all seemed a dream. And when I got to Capri, with Matilde 
Urrutia, my Matilde, the unreal sensation of dreaming increased. 

We came to the marvelous island on a winter night. The coast 
loomed through the shadows, whitish and tall, unfamiliar and 
silent. What would happen? What would happen to us? A little 
horse carriage was waiting. Up and up the deserted nighttime 
streets the carriage climbed. White, mute houses, narrow vertical 
lanes. It finally pulled up and the coachman took our bags into the 
house, which was also white and apparently empty. 

We went in and saw a fire blazing in the huge hearth. Standing 
in the glow of the burning candelabra was a tall man, with hair, 
beard, and suit equally white. He was Signore Edwin Cerio, his- 
torian and naturalist, who owned half of Capri. He stood out in 
the shadows like the image of Taita God in children’s stories. He 
was almost ninety years old and he was the most distinguished 
man on the island. 

“Make yourselves at home, no one will bother you here.” 

And he left us, thoughtfully contenting himself with sending 
short messages with news or advice, notes written in an exquisite 
hand, accompanied by a single leaf or a flower from his garden. 
For us, Edwin Cerio was the embodiment of the large, generous, 
and perfumed heart of Italy. 

Afterwards I got to know his work, books that are more genu- 
ine than Axel Munthe’s, though not as famous. Noble old Cerio 
repeated with roguish humor: “Capri’s town square is God’s 

Matilde and I took refuge in our love. We went for long walks 
through Anacapri. The small island, divided into a thousand tiny 
orchards, has a natural splendor, too much commented on but 
strictly true. Among the rocks, wherever the sun and the wind 
beat down most, in the arid earth, diminutive plants and flowers 
burst out, grown in precise and exquisite patterns. This hidden 
Capri that you enter only after a long pilgrimage, after the tourist 
label has peeled off from your clothes, this popular Capri of rocks 

Beginning and End of Exile 


and minuscule vineyards, of humble people, hard-working and 
natural people, has an absorbing charm. By now you have assimi- 
lated things and people; coachmen and fishwives know you; you 
are part of the hidden Capri of the poor; and you know where to 
find the good wine and where to buy the olives that the natives 
of Capri eat. 

All those depraved things we read about in novels may take 
place behind high palace walls. But I shared a happy life in great 
solitude or among the simplest people in the world. Unforgettable 
time! I worked all morning at my poems and Matilde typed them 
in the afternoon. It was the first time we had lived together in the 
same house. In that place whose beauty was intoxicating, our love 
grew steadily. We could never again live apart. There I finished 
Los versos del capitan, a book of love, passionate but also painful, 
which was published later in Naples anonymously. 

And now I am going to relate the story of this book, one of my 
most controversial works. It remained a secret for a long time, for 
a long time it did not carry my name on its cover, as if I were 
disowning it or as if the book itself did not know who its father 
was. There are natural children, offspring of natural love, and, in 
that sense, Los versos del capitan was a natural book. 

The poems in it were written here and there, during my exile in 
Europe. They were published anonymously in Naples, in 1952. 
My love for Matilde, homesickness for Chile, the passions of so- 
cial consciousness fill the pages of this book that went through 
many editions without its author’s name. 

For its first printing, the artist Paolo Ricci obtained some fine 
paper, antique Bodoni printing types, and engravings copied 
from Pompeian urns. Paolo also made up the list of subscribers, 
with brotherly devotion. The lovely volume was soon out, an 
edition of only fifty copies. We had a long celebration for this, 
with a table full of flowers, frutti di mare, wine as transparent as 
water, a unique offspring of the vines of Capri. And also with the 
cheer of friends who loved our love. 

A few suspicious critics suggested political motives for the ap- 
pearance of this book without a signature. “The party is against 
it, the party doesn’t approve,” they said. But it wasn’t true. 
Fortunately, my party is not against expressions of beauty. 

The real truth is that I did not want those poems to wound 



Delia, whom I was leaving. Delia del Carril, sweetest of consorts, 
thread of steel and honey tied to me during the years when my 
poetry sang most, was my perfect mate for eighteen years. This 
book, filled with sudden and burning love, would have reached 
her like a rock hurled against her gentleness. That, only that, was 
the profound, personal, respectable reason for my anonymity. 

Later, still without a first and last name, the book reached 
adulthood, a natural and courageous adulthood. It made its own 
way through life and I had to acknowledge it, at last. Now the 
“captain’s verses,” signed by the genuine captain, tramp the roads, 
that is, bookstores and libraries. 


My exile was nearing its end. It was the year 1952. We crossed 
Switzerland en route to Cannes to catch an Italian ship that would 
take us to Montevideo. This time we didn’t want to see anyone in 
France. Alice Gascar, my loyal translator and long-time friend, 
was the only one I notified that we were passing through. In 
Cannes, however, something unexpected awaited us. 

On the street, near the shipping line, I met Paul Eluard and his 
wife, Dominique. They had heard I was coming and were waiting 
to invite me to lunch. Picasso would also be there. Then we ran 
into the Chilean painter Nemesio Anrunez and his wife, Ines 
Figueroa; both would also be at the lunch. 

It was the last time I would see Paul Eluard. I picture him in the 
Cannes sunlight wearing a blue pajama-like suit. I shall never for- 
get his tanned, ruddy face, his intense blue eyes, his infinitely 
boyish smile, under the African light of the glaring streets in 
Cannes. Eluard had come from Saint-Tropez to say goodbye -to 
me; he had brought Picasso along and had arranged the lunch. 
The party was all set. 

A stupid, unforeseen incident ruined my day. Matilde did not 
have a visa for Uruguay. We had to hurry over to that country’s 
consulate. We took a taxi and I waited at the door. Matilde smiled 
optimistically when the consul came out to receive her. He 
looked like a nice boy. He was humming a melody from Madame 
Butterfly and wasn’t dressed much like a consul: an undershirt 
and walking shorts; and it never occurred to her that during their 

Beginning and End of Exile 217 

conversation the fellow would turn into a common extortioner. 
With his Pinkerton looks, he wanted to charge for overtime and 
raised all sorts of obstacles. He had us chasing around all morning. 
At lunch the bouillabaisse tasted like bitter gall to me. It took 
Matilde several hours to get her visa. Pinkerton dug up more and 
more red tape by the second: she had to have her photograph 
taken, to change dollars into francs, to pay for a long-distance call 
to Bordeaux. The fee for a transit visa that should have been free 
came to more than $120. I even started thinking that Matilde 
would miss the boat, and I wasn’t going to leave either. For a long 
time I recalled this as one of the bitterest days in my life. 


I am an amateur of the sea. For years I have been collecting 
information that is of little use because I usually navigate on land. 

Now I am returning to Chile, to my oceanic country, and my 
ship is approaching the coasts of Africa. It has now passed the 
ancient Pillars of Hercules, armed today to serve one of the last 
bulwarks of imperialism. 

I observe the sea with the complete detachment of a true ocean- 
ographer, who knows its surface and its depth, without literary 
pleasure, but with a connoisseur’s relish, a cetacean’s palate. 

I have always enjoyed sea stories and I have a fish net in my 
library. The books I like to look up the most are William Beebe’s 
or a good monograph on the Volutidae of the Antarctic Ocean. 

Plankton interests me— the nutricious waters, molecular and 
electrified, that stain the sea like violet lightning. Thus I came to 
know that whales feed almost exclusively on these infinitely pro- 
liferating sea creatures. The tiniest plants and unreal Infusoria 
overrun our shaky continent. Whales open their enormous 
mouths as they shift from place to place, raising their tongues to 
their palates to let these living and visceral waters fill and nourish 
them. That is the feeding method of the glaucus whale ( Rhachia - 
nectes glaucus ), which goes past my Isla Negra windows on its 
way to the South Pacific and the tropical islands. 

That is also the migratory route of the sperm or toothed whale, 
the most Chilean of hunted whales. Chilean sailors used them to 
illustrate the folkloric world of the sea. On their teeth the knives 

2 1 8 


of the sailors scrimshawed hearts and arrows, tiny memorials to 
love, childish drawings of their ships or their sweethearts. But our 
whalers, the boldest in the watery hemisphere, did not traverse 
the Strait of Magellan and Cape Horn, the Antarctic and its 
furies, simply to unstring the teeth of the menacing sperm whale, 
but to seize its treasure of blubber and, especially, the tiny sac of 
ambergris this monster hides in its mountainous abdomen. 

I am coming from somewhere else now. I have left behind me 
the last blue sanctuary of the Mediterranean, the grottoes, the 
marine and submarine contours of the island of Capri, where 
the sirens climbed on the rocks to comb out their blue hair, for the 
churning of the sea had dyed and drenched their wild tresses. 

In the Naples aquarium I was able to see the electrical mole- 
cules of primeval organisms and a jellyfish soaring and falling, 
made of silver and vapor, fluttering in its solemn blue dance, 
girdled below by the only electric belt any lady of the deep has 
ever worn. 

Many years ago in Madras, in the gloomy India of my youth, I 
paid a visit to a marvelous aquarium. I can still see the shiny fish, 
the poisonous morays, the schools of fish dressed in fire and rain- 
bow, and, more than that, the super-serious octopuses with their 
measured strides, metallic computers with innumerable eyes, legs, 
suckers, and stored-up information. 

Of the giant octopus we all encountered for the first time in 
Victor Hugo’s The Toilers of the Sea (Victor Hugo is also a 
tentacled and polymorphous octopus of poetry), of that species I 
only got to see the fragment of an arm in Copenhagen’s Museum 
of Natural History. This was indeed the legendary kraken, terror 
of the ancient seas, who would seize a sailing vessel and drag it 
down, covering it, entangling itself around it. The fragment I 
saw, preserved in alcohol, indicated that the creature was more 
than thirty meters long. 

But what I was really after was the trail, or rather the body, of 
the narwhal. Since my friends knew next to nothing about the 
giant sea unicorn of the North Seas, I came to feel that I was the 
narwhal’s exclusive spokesman and to believe that I, too, was a 

Does the narwhal exist? Can such an extraordinarily pacific sea 
creature with an ivory lance four or five meters long on its brow. 


Beginning and End of Exile 

striated from tip to dp in the style of Solomon, and ending in a 
needle, can it and its legend, its marvelous name, go unnoticed by 
millions of human beings? 

Of its name— narwhal or narwal— I can only say that it is the 
most beautiful of undersea names, the name of a sea goblet that 
sings, the name of a crystal spur. Then why doesn’t anyone know 
its name? Why isn’t there anyone with Narwal for a last name, or 
a beautiful Narwal building, even a Narwal Ramirez or a Nar- 
wala Carvajal? 

There aren’t any. The sea unicorn is shrouded in mystery, in its 
currents and transmarine shadows, with its long ivory sword sub- 
merged in unexplored oceans. In the Middle Ages, hunting uni- 
corns was a mystical, an aesthetic sport. The land unicorn lives on 
forever in tapestries, a dazzling creature surrounded by alabas- 
trine ladies with high coiffures, aureoled in its majesty by birds 
that trill or flash their brilliant plumage. As for the narwhal, 
medieval monarchs considered it a magnificent gift and sent one 
another fragments of its fabulous body. From it, one scraped a 
powder which, diluted in liqueurs, bestowed— O eternal dream of 
man!— health, youth, and virility. 

Wandering around one day somewhere in Denmark, I entered 
an old shop where objects of natural history were for sale— a 
business, unknown in our America, that holds great fascination 
for me. There, in a comer, I discovered three or four narwhal 
horns. The largest was five meters long. I thrust and parried with 
them and stroked them for a long while. 

The old man who owned the shop watched me tilting, with an 
ivory lance in my hands, at imaginary windmills, invisible wind- 
mills of the sea. Then I replaced each one in its corner. All I could 
buy myself was a tiny one, from a baby narwhal, one of those 
which go out to explore the cold Arctic waters with their inno- 
cent spur. 

I put it away in my suitcase, but in a small pension facing Lake 
Leman in Switzerland I had a craving to see and touch the sea 
unicom’s magic treasure. And I took it out of my suitcase. 

I can’t find it now. 

Did I leave it lying somewhere in the Vesenaz pension, or did it 
roll under the bed at the last minute? Or could it have returned in 
some unaccountable way to the polar circle one night? 



I look at the small waves of a new day on the Atlantic. 

On either side of its bow, the ship leaves a white, blue, and 
sulphuric gash of water, foam, and chumed-up depths. 

The portals of the ocean are trembling. 

Over them soar diminutive flying fish, silver and translucent. 

I am on my way back from exile. 

I gaze at the waters a long time. I am sailing over them to other 
waters: the tormented waves of my country. 

The sky of a long day covers all the ocean. 

Night will come once more to hide the huge green palace of 
mystery with its shadow. 


Voyage and Homecoming 


I had a relative, a senator who, having triumphed in some recent 
elections, came to spend a few days at my house in Isla Negra. 
That’s how the story of the lamb begins. 

Well, the senator’s most enthusiastic supporters came to throw a 
feast for him. On the first afternoon of the feasting, a lamb was 
cooked in the Chilean country style, with a huge fire outdoors 
and the animal’s body stuck on a wooden spit. This is called 
“roast on the stick” and is enjoyed with lots of wine and plaintive 
creole guitars. 

Another lamb was being kept for the following day’s festivities. 
While his fate hung in the balance, he was tethered outside my 
window. AH night long, he moaned and cried, bleating and com- 
plaining of his loneliness. It was heartbreaking to listen to the 
lamb’s modulations, so much so that I decided to get up at dawn 
and abduct him. 

I put him in a car and drove a hundred and fifty kilometers 
to my house in Santiago, where the knives would not get him. He 
had no sooner arrived than he set to munching greedily on the 
choicest things in my garden. He loved the tulips and didn’t spare 
a single one. He didn’t take liberties with the rosebushes, for 
thorny reasons, but he gobbled down the gillyflowers and the 
lilies with uncanny delight. There was nothing I could do but 
tether him again. And he set to bleating at once, obviously trying 
to move my heart as he had done before. I was desperate. 




Now the story of Juanito and the story of the lamb will join. 
At about that time there had been a farm laborers’ strike in the 
south. The landowners in the area, who paid the tenant farmers 
only twenty cents a day, ended the strike with sticks and jail 
sentences. One country boy was so scared that he hopped a mov- 
ing train. The boy’s name was Juanito; he was a devout Catholic 
and knew nothing of the things of this world. When the con- 
ductor on the train came by to check the tickets, the boy said he 
didn’t have one, he was going to Santiago, he thought trains were 
for people to get on and travel whenever they had to. Naturally, 
they were going to put him off. But the third-class passengers— 
country people, as always big-hearted— took up a collection and 
paid the fare. 

Juanito walked the streets and squares of the capital with a 
parcel of clothes under his arm. He didn’t know anyone and so 
did not talk to anyone. In the country it was said that in Santiago 
the thieves outnumbered the other people, and the boy was afraid 
they would take the shirt and espadrilles he carried wrapped in 
newspaper under his arm. In the daytime he roamed the busiest 
streets, where people were always in a hurry and jostled out of 
their way this Kaspar Hauser fallen from another star. At night he 
also sought the most crowded neighborhoods, but these were the 
avenues with cabarets and night life, and he looked even more 
outlandish there, a pale shepherd lost among sinners. Without a 
cent to his name, he couldn’t eat, and one day he collapsed on the 
ground in a dead faint. 

A crowd of curious people gathered around the boy lying on 
the street. He had fallen in front of a small restaurant. He was 
carried inside and set down on the floor. It’s his heart, some said. 
It’s his liver, others said. The restaurant owner came over, took 
one look, and said, “It’s an empty stomach.” The corpse revived 
as soon as it had had a few mouthfuls. The proprietor set him to 
washing dishes and took a great liking to him. He had reason; the 
country boy washed mountains of dishes and was always smiling. 
Everything was going well; he had a lot more to eat than in the 

The city wove its spell in a strange way to make the shepherd 
and the sheep meet one day in my house. 

The shepherd felt like seeing the city and ventured a little be- 

Voyage and Homecoming 


yond the mountains of dishes. He went down one street eagerly, 
crossed a square, and found everything fascinating. But when he 
tried to go back, he couldn’t. He hadn’t taken down the address 
of the hospitable premises that had taken him in, because he didn’t 
know how to write, and he searched for them in vain. He never 
found them again. 

Touched by his predicament, someone told him to come to me, 
Pablo Neruda, the poet. I don’t know why the fellow suggested 
this. Probably because in Chile people are in the habit of passing 
on to me any strange thing that wanders through their heads, and 
of blaming me, moreover, for whatever happens afterwards. 
These are strange national customs. 

Anyhow, the boy came to my house one day and made the 
acquaintance of the captive animal. Having taken charge of a 
lamb I didn’t need, I found it easy to take the next step— taking 
the shepherd under my wing. I gave him the job of seeing to it 
that the gourmet lamb did not devour my flowers exclusively but 
from time to time also sated its appetite on the grass in my garden. 

They took to each other on the spot. During the first days, as a 
formality, the boy tied a string around the animal’s neck, like a 
ribbon, and led him from place to place. The lamb ate incessantly, 
and his personal shepherd, too; both roamed all over the house, 
even into my rooms. It was a perfect kinship; they were linked by 
mother earth’s umbilical cord, by the natural law of man. Many 
months went by. Shepherd and lamb rounded their anatomies 
with fat, especially the ruminant, who blew up to such propor- 
tions that he could barely follow his master around. Sometimes he 
came cautiously into my room, regarded me with indifference, 
and went out, dropping a small rosary of dark beads on the floor. 

It all came to an end when the peasant started to pine for the 
provinces and told me he was returning to his remote corner of 
the world. It was a last-minute decision, he had to keep a vow he 
had made to the Virgin who was patroness of his home town, and 
he couldn’t very well take the sheep. It was a tender parting. The 
shepherd took the train, with his ticket in hand this time. It was 
all very sad. 

What was left in my garden was not a lamb but a serious, or 
rather, a fat problem. What was I to do with the creature? Who 
would look after him now? I had too many political commitments. 

22 4 


My house was a wreck after the persecutions my militant poetry 
had brought down on me. The lamb took up his plaintive tune 
once more. 

I looked the other way and told my sister to take him with her. 
Alas! This time I was sure he would not escape the roasting stick. 

AUGUST 1952 TO APRIL 1 95 7 

The years between August 1952 and April 1957 will not be de- 
tailed in my memoirs, since I spent almost all this time in Chile and 
nothing out of the ordinary happened to me, no adventures that 
would amuse my readers. But I ought to mention some important 
things that occurred during those years. I published Las uvas y el 
viento, which had been written earlier. I worked intensely on 
Odas elementales, Nuevas odas elementales, and Tercer libro de 
las odas. I organized a Continental Congress of Culture, held in 
Santiago and attended by outstanding personalities from all the 
Americas. I also celebrated my fiftieth birthday in Santiago, and 
prominent writers came from all over the world: Ai Ch’ing and 
Siao Emi came from China; Ilya Ehrenburg flew in from the 
Soviet Union; Drda and Kutvalek from Czechoslovakia; and 
among the Latin Americans present were Miguel Angel Asturias, 
Oliverio Girondo, Norah Lange, Elvio Romero, Maria Rosa 
Oliver, Raul Larra, and many others. I donated my library and 
other property to the University of Chile. I made a trip to the 
Soviet Union, as juror for the Lenin Peace Prize, which I myself 
had received during this period, when it was still called the Stalin 
Prize. Delia del Carril and I separated for good. I built my house 
La Chascona and moved into it with Matilde Urrutia. I started 
the magazine Gaceta de Chile and edited several issues. I took part 
in the electoral campaigns and other activities of Chile’s Commu- 
nist Party. The Losada publishing house in Buenos Aires brought 
out my collected works on Bible paper. 


At the end of this period I was invited to a Congress for Peace 
which was to meet in Colombo, on the island of Ceylon, where I 
had lived so many years ago. It was April 1957. 

Voyage and. Homecoming 


An encounter with the secret police may not seem dangerous, 
but if it’s the secret police of Argentina, that is something else 
again— not without humor, but with unpredictable consequences. 
This particular night, just in from Chile and en route to far-off 
lands, I fell into bed exhausted. I was just starting to doze off, 
when several policemen burst into the house. They ransacked the 
place: they picked up books and magazines, they rummaged 
in closets, and went through the underwear. And they had al- 
ready taken away the Argentine friend in whose house I was 
staying, when they discovered me in my room at the back of the 

“Who is this man?” they asked. 

“My name is Pablo Neruda,” I said. 

“Is he sick?” they questioned my wife. 

“Yes, he is sick and very tired after his trip. We got here today 
and we’re flying to Europe tomorrow.” 

“Well, well,” they said, and left the room. 

They were back an hour later with an ambulance. Matilde pro- 
tested, but this had no effect on them. They had their orders. 
They were to take me in, weary or fresh, healthy or sick, dead or 

It was raining that night. Thick drops came down from the 
heavy Buenos Aires skies. I couldn’t understand it. Peron had 
already been ousted. In the name of democracy, General Aram- 
buru had overthrown tyranny. Yet, without knowing how or 
when, whither or wherefore, whether for this or that, for nothing 
or everything, dead tired and ill, I was on my way to prison. The 
stretcher on which the four policemen were carrying me became 
a knotty problem as we descended stairways, entered elevators, 
crossed hallways. The four litter-bearers suffered and puffed. To 
make their distress even greater, Matilde told them in a honeyed 
voice that I weighed 1 10 kilos. And I really looked it, in sweater 
and overcoat, with blankets pulled up over my head— bulging like 
a huge mass, like Mt. Osorno the volcano, on the stretcher Argen- 
tine democracy had proffered me. I imagined, and this eased my 
phlebitis symptoms, that the poor devils sweating and puffing 
under my weight were General Aramburu himself carrying the 

We followed prison routine, and I was booked and my per- 
sonal effects confiscated. I was not even allowed to hang on to the 

juicy detective story I had with me to keep from being bored. But 
I really didn't have time to get bored. Bars clanged open and closed. 
The stretcher went through courtyards and iron doors, penetrat- 
ing deeper and deeper, past banging noises and locks. Suddenly I 
found myself in the middle of a crowd, the rest of the night’s 
prisoners, more than two thousand of them. I was to be held 
incommunicado; no one was allowed near me. Yet hands reached 
under the blankets to shake mine, and one soldier put down his 
gun and held out a sheet of paper for my autograph. 

Finally they deposited me upstairs, in the farthest cell, with a 
tiny, very high window. I wanted to rest, to get some sleep, sleep, 
sleep. I couldn’t. Day had broken and the Argentine prisoners 
were making an ear-splitting racket, a deafening uproar, as if they 
were watching a soccer match between the River and the Boca 

Some hours later, the community of writers and friends had gone 
into action in Argentina, Chile, and several other countries. They 
took me from my cell, carried me to the infirmary, returned my 
belongings, and set me free. 1 was about to leave the prison, when 
one of the uniformed guards came up to me and put a sheet of 
paper in my hands. It was a poem he had dedicated to me, written 
in crude verse, filled with careless slips, innocent like all popular 
art. I imagine few poets have received a poetic homage from the 
men assigned to guard them. 


One day on Isla Negra the servant girl told us: Ma’am, Don 
Pablo, I’m pregnant. Soon after that, she had a baby boy. We 
never knew who the father was. She didn’t care. What she did 
care about was that Matilde and I should be the baby’s godpar- 
ents. But it was not to be. We couldn’t do it. The nearest church 
is in El Tabo, a cheerful little village where we fill up the station 
wagon with gas. The priest bristled like a hedgehog. “A Commu- 
nist godfather? Never. Neruda will not come in that door, not 
even if he carries your child in his arms.” The girl went back 
home to her brooms, crestfallen. She did not understand. 

Another time, I watched Don Asterio suffer. He is an old 
watchmaker, well on in years, the best maker of chronometers in 

Voyage and Homecoming 


Valparaiso. He repairs the navy’s instruments. His wife was dying 
—his old companion. Fifty years of matrimony. I thought I ought 
to write something about him. Something that would help him a 
little in his bitter moment. Something he could read to his dying 
wife. So I thought. I don’t know if I was right. I wrote the poem. 
In it I put my admiration and my feelings for the craftsman and 
his craft. For that life, so pure among the ticktocks of old clocks. 
Sarita Vial took the poem to a newspaper. The newspaper, La 
Union, was run by Senor Pascal, a priest. He would not publish 
the poem; it wouldn’t be published. Neruda, its author, was an 
excommunicated Communist. He would not. The woman died— 
Don Asterio’s old companion. The priest would not publish the 

I want to live in a world where no one is excommunicated. I 
will not excommunicate anybody. I would not tell that priest 
tomorrow: “You can’t baptize So-and-So, because you are an anti- 
Communist.” I would not tell another priest: “I will not publish 
your poem, your creation, because you’re an anti-Communist.” I 
want to live in a world where beings are only human, with no 
other title but that, without worrying their heads about a rule, a 
word, a label. I want people to be able to go into all the churches, 
to all the printing presses. I don’t want anyone to ever again wait 
at the Mayor’s office door to arrest and deport someone else. I 
want everyone to go in and come out of City Hall smiling. I don’t 
want anyone to flee in a gondola or be chased on a motorcycle. I 
want the great majority, the only majority, everyone, to be able 
to speak out, read, listen, thrive. I have never understood the 
struggle except as something to end all struggle. I have never 
understood hard measures except as something to end hard mea- 
sures. I have taken a road because I believe that road leads us all to 
lasting brotherhood. I am fighting for that ubiquitous, wide- 
spread, inexhaustible goodness. After all the run-ins between my 
poetry and the police, after all these episodes and others I will not 
mention because they would sound repetitious, and in spite of 
other things that did not happen to me but to many who cannot 
tell them any more, I still have absolute faith in human destiny, a 
clearer and clearer conviction that we are approaching a great 
common tenderness. I write knowing that the danger of the 
bomb hangs over all our heads, a nuclear catastrophe that would 



leave no one, nothing on this earth. Well, that does not alter my 
hope. At this critical moment, in this flicker of anguish, we know 
that the true light will enter those eyes that are vigilant. We 
shall all understand one another. We shall advance together. And 
this hope cannot be crushed. 


A universal cause, the fight against atomic death, was taking me 
back to Colombo. We crossed the Soviet Union en route to India 
in the TU-104, a marvelous jet making the flight just to carry our 
huge delegation. Our only stop was Tashkent, near Samarkand. 
The airplane would set us down in the heart of India two days 

We were flying at ten thousand meters. To cross the Himalayas, 
the giant bird soared even higher, close to fifteen thousand 
meters. From that altitude, an almost motionless landscape can be 
seen. The first barriers come into view, blue and white spurs of 
the Himalayas. Somewhere below, the awesome Abominable 
Snowman walks around in his terrifying solitude. Then, on the 
left, Mt. Everest’s mass looms like one more small irregularity in 
the diadems of snow. The sun beats down on the entire strange 
landscape; its light cuts out profiles, jagged rocks, the command- 
ing sight of the snowy silence. 

The American Andes, which I have crossed so many times, 
come to mind. The disorder, the Cyclopean fury, the raging des- 
ert of our mountains do not prevail here. The Asian mountains 
appear more classical to me, more well-ordered. Their domes 
have shapes like monasteries and pagodas in the infinite vastness. 
The solitude reaches farther out. The shadows do not rise like 
walls of awe-inspiring stone but spread out like the enigmatic blue 
gardens of a colossal monastery. 

I remind myself that I am breathing the most rarefied air in the 
world and watching from the skies the tallest peaks on earth. It’s a 
unique sensation in which are mingled clarity and pride, speed 
and snow. 

We are flying to Ceylon. Now we are losing altitude over the 
hot regions of India. We left the Soviet craft in New Delhi to 


Voyage and Homecoming 

take this Indian airplane. Its wings quiver and creak in violent 
storm clouds. In the middle of this seesawing motion, my 
thoughts go down to the flowering island. At twenty-two I lived 
a lonely life in Ceylon, writing my bitterest poetry there, sur- 
rounded by the beauty of nature’s paradise. 

I am returning, a long time afterwards, for this impressive re- 
union in behalf of peace, whose cause the government has 
espoused. I see great numbers, perhaps hundreds, of Buddhist 
monks, in groups, dressed in their saffron tunics, immersed deep 
in the meditation that marks Buddha’s disciples. By fighting 
against war, destruction, and death, these priests reaffirm the an- 
cient sentiments of peace and harmony preached by Prince Sid- 
dhartha Gautama, known as Buddha. How far from this— I 
think— is the church of our American countries, a church like 
Spain’s, official and belligerent. How comforting it would be to 
true Christians if they saw Catholic priests fighting from their 
pulpits against the gravest and most terrifying of crimes: atomic 
death, which slaughters millions of innocent people and leaves its 
biological maculae in the human race for all time. 

I went off, guessing my way through the narrow streets, to 
look for the house where I had lived, in the suburb of Wella- 
watte. I had a hard time finding it. The trees had grown. The face 
of the street had changed. 

The old place where I had written so many painful poems was 
going to be tom down soon. Its doors were worm-eaten, the 
tropical dampness had damaged its walls, but it had stood there 
waiting for this final moment of parting. 

I found none of my old friends. And yet the island knocked on 
the door of my heart again with its sharp sound, with its immense 
scintillation of light. The sea was still humming the same old tune 
under the palms, over against the reefs. I followed the forest 
tracks again, I saw the elephants again, with their majestic walk, 
blocking the paths, again I felt the headiness produced by over- 
powering perfumes, and I heard the sound of green things grow- 
ing and the life of the forest. I reached the rock of Sigiriya, 
where a mad king had built his fortress. As in other days, I paid 
homage to the huge statues of Buddha in whose shadow men walk 
like tiny insects. 



And I went away once more, knowing that this time I was never 

to return. 


From this peace congress in Colombo I flew across India with 
Jorge Amado and Zelia, his wife. The Indian planes were always 
crammed with turbaned passengers, covered with colors and 
loaded with baskets. It seemed impossible to squeeze so many 
people into an airplane. A crowd got off at the first airport, and 
another piled in to take its place. We had to go on beyond Madras, 
to Calcutta. The plane shuddered under the tropical storms. A 
day like night, darker than true night, suddenly covered us, and 
then left to make room for a glaring sky. The plane began stag- 
gering again; lightning and thunder illuminated the sudden dark- 
ness. I watched Jorge Amado’s face go from white to yellow and 
from yellow to green. And he saw the same mutation of color 
produced in my own face by the terror that gripped our throats. 
It started to rain inside the plane. The water came in in heavy 
drops that reminded me of my house in Temuco in winter. But 
ten thousand meters up, those leaks did not amuse me. The amus- 
ing thing, though, was a monk sitting behind us. He opened an 
umbrella and with Oriental serenity went on reading his texts of 
ancient wisdom. 

We arrived uneventfully in Rangoon, Burma. The thirtieth 
anniversary of my residence on earth fell just about then, my 
residence in Burma, where I, a complete unknown, had written 
my poems. In 1927, to be exact, at the age of twenty-three, I 
landed in this same Rangoon. It was delirious with color, a torrid 
and fascinating place, and its languages were impenetrable. The 
colony was being exploited and preyed on by its English rulers, 
but the city was clean and luminous, its streets sparkled with life, 
the shop windows displayed their colonial temptations. 

It was a half-empty city now, with bare shop windows, and 
filth piled up in the streets. A people’s struggle for independence 
is not an easy road. After the people’s uprising and the flags of 
freedom, we must open our way through hardships and storms. 
To date, I don’t know the story of independent Burma, so clois- 
tered is it beside the powerful Irrawaddy River, at the foot of its 

2 3 ‘ 

Voyage and Homecoming 

golden pagodas, but— over and beyond the garbage in its streets 
and the sadness rippling past— I was able to imagine all those dark 
dramas that shake up new republics. It was as if the past still 
oppressed them. 

Not a trace of Josie Bliss, my pursuer, the heroine of my 
“Tango del viudo.” No one could supply me with information 
about her life or her death. The neighborhood where we had 
lived together no longer even existed. 

Now we are flying away from Burma, crossing over the moun- 
tain spurs that separate it from China. An austere landscape, with 
an idyllic serenity. From Mandalay the plane soared over the 
rice paddies, over the baroque pagodas, over millions of palm 
trees, over Burma’s fratricidal war, and entered the serene, linear 
calm of the Chinese landscape. 

In Kunming, the first Chinese city across the border, our old 
friend, the poet Ai Ch’ing, was waiting for us. His broad dark 
features, his large eyes brimming with mischief and kindness, his 
quick intelligence, were once more a promise of pleasure during 
this long journey. 

Like Ho Chi Minh, Ai Ch’ing belonged to the old Oriental 
stock of poets conditioned by colonialist oppression in the Orient 
and a hard life in Paris. Coming from prisons in their native land, 
these poets, whose voices were natural and lyrical, became needy 
students or waiters in restaurants abroad. They never lost confi- 
dence in the Revolution. Very gentle in their poetry but iron- 
jawed in politics, they had come home in time to carry out their 

In Kunming, the trees in the park had undergone plastic sur- 
gery. They had taken on unnatural forms, and sometimes one 
could make out an amputation packed in mud or a contorted limb 
still in bandages, like an injured arm. We were taken to see the 
gardener, the evil genius who reigned over such an unusual gar- 
den. Stumpy old firs had not grown beyond thirty centimeters, 
and we even saw midget orange trees covered with miniature 
oranges like golden rice grains. 

We also visited a bizarre stone forest. Each rock was elongated 
like a monolithic needle or bristled like a wave in a still sea. 
We discovered that this taste for rocks with strange forms was 

23 * 


centuries old. Many huge rocks with puzzling shapes decorate the 
squares in ancient Chinese cities. In bygone days, when governors 
wanted to give the emperor the best present they could find, they 
sent him some of these colossal stones. The presents took years to 
reach Peking, the huge bulks pushed for thousands of kilometers 
by dozens of slaves. 

China does not seem enigmatic to me. On the contrary, even in 
the middle of its formidable revolutionary drive, I couldn’t help 
looking at it as a country built thousands of years ago, constantly 
solidifying, stratifying itself. An immense pagoda: men and 
myths, warriors, peasants, and gods go in and out of its ancient 
structure. There is nothing spontaneous here, not even a smile. 
One looks everywhere in vain for the small, rough-hewn objects 
of popular art, made with errors in perspective, art that so often 
borders on the marvelous. Chinese dolls, pottery, wrought stone 
and wood, reproduce models that are thousands of years old. 
Everything has the seal of the object perfected and then repeated. 

I had my most pleasant surprise in a village market where I 
found some cicada cages made of very fine bamboo. They were 
magnificent, one room superimposed on another with architec- 
tonic precision, each with its own captive cicada, forming castles 
almost three feet high. As I looked at the knots holding the bam- 
boo strips together, and the tender green color of the stems, it 
seemed to me that the hand of the people, the innocence that can 
work miracles, had sprung back to life. Seeing my admiration, the 
peasants would not sell me that castle filled with sound. They 
gave it to me. And so the ritual song of the cicadas accompanied 
me for weeks, deep into Chinese territory. Only back in my 
childhood do I remember having received gifts as memorable 
and rustic as this. 

We start our travels on a ship carrying a thousand passengers, 
peasants, workers, fishermen, a vigorous throng of people, up the 
Yangtze. Headed for Nanking, for several days we follow the 
broad river filled with vessels and work projects, crossed and 
furrowed by thousands of lives, everyday concerns and dreams. 
This river is China’s main street. Very wide and tranquil, the 
Yangtze sometimes narrows and the ship has a difficult time pass- 
ing through its tyrannical gorges. The extremely high walls on 
either side seem to meet overhead in the sky, where from time to 

Voyage and Homecoming 233 

time a tiny cloud can be glimpsed, sketched with the mastery of 
an Oriental brush, or a small house among the scars in the rock. 

Few landscapes on earth have such overwhelming beauty. Per- 
haps the violent mountain passes of the Caucasus or our solitary 
and forbidding Strait of Magellan are comparable. 

I observe that a noticeable change has taken place during the 
five years I have been away from China, and it is more pro- 
nounced as I travel deep into the country this time. 

This impression is confused at first. What do I notice, what has 
changed in the streets, in the people? Ah, I miss the color blue. 
Five years ago at this same time of year 1 visited the streets of 
China, always overflowing, always throbbing with human lives. 
But everyone was dressed in proletarian blue then, some kind of 
twill or light workingman’s tweed. Men, women, and children 
wore it. I liked this simplified dress with its varying shades of 
blue. It was a beautiful thing to see innumerable blue specks cross- 
ing streets and roads. 

This has changed. What has happened? 

The textile industry has simply grown big enough in these five 
years to clothe millions of Chinese women in all colors, in flowers, 
stripes, and polka dots, in all varieties of silk; and enough also for 
millions of Chinese men to wear other colors and better fabrics. 

Now each street is a delicate rainbow of China’s exquisite taste, 
of this race that doesn’t know how to make anything ugly, this 
country where the most primitive sandal looks like a straw flower. 

Sailing on the Yangtze, I was struck by how faithful the old 
Chinese paintings are. Up there on the mountain pass, a twisted 
pine tree like a minuscule pagoda brings to mind the old imagina- 
tive prints. There are few places more unreal, more fantastic and 
surprising than these mountain passes that rise above the great 
river to incredible heights and display, in any fissure in the rock, 
age-old signs of this wonderful people: five or six meters of 
newly planted vegetables, or a small temple with a five-tiered 
roof, for contemplation and meditation. Farther up on the bald 
crags we seem to make out the tunics or the vaporous wisps of the 
ancient myths; they’re just clouds and an occasional flight of 
birds, painted so often by the oldest and wisest miniaturists on 
earth. A profound poem comes out of this magnificent world of 
nature, a poem as brief and bare as the flight of a bird or the silver 

lightning streak of water that flows, almost without stirring, be- 
tween walls of rock. 

But what is definitely extraordinary about this landscape is to 
see man working in tiny rectangles, on some little green dab on 
the rocks. All the way up, on the tip of the vertical walls, wher- 
ever there is a recess that holds a little bit of cultivable ground, 
there is a Chinese farming it. The Chinese mother earth is vast and 
hard. She has disciplined and shaped man, making him an instru- 
ment of work, tireless, subtle, and dogged. The combination of 
vast land, extraordinary human labor, and the gradual elimination 
of all injustice will make the people of this beautiful, far-flung, 
and profound China thrive. 

During this voyage on the Yangtze, Jorge Amado seemed edgy 
and depressed. Many aspects of life aboard the ship irritated him 
and Zelia, his wife. Zelia, however, has a calm temperament that 
can carry her through fire without getting burned. 

One of these irritants was the fact that, against our wishes, we 
were being treated as privileged persons on the trip. With our 
special cabins and private dining room, we felt uncomfortable in 
the middle of hundreds of Chinese squeezed together everywhere 
on the boat. The Brazilian novelist looked at me with sarcastic 
eyes and dropped one of his witty, biting remarks. 

In truth, the revelations about the Stalin era had snapped a 
coiled spring deep within Jorge Amado. We are old friends, we 
have shared years of exile, we had always been united by a com- 
mon conviction and hope. But I believe I have been less sectarian 
than he; my nature and my Chilean temperament inclined me 
toward an understanding of others. Jorge, on the other hand, had 
always been inflexible. His mentor, Luis Carlos Prestes, spent 
nearly fifteen years of his life in prison. These are things that 
cannot be forgotten, they harden the spirit. I justified Jorge’s 
sectarianism to myself, without sharing it. 

The report of the Twentieth Congress was a tidal wave that 
drove all of us revolutionaries to take new stands and draw new 
conclusions. Many of us had the feeling that, from the anguish 
produced by those painful revelations, we were being born all 
over again. We were reborn cleansed of darkness and terror, 
ready to continue the journey with a firm grip on the truth. 

Voyage and Homecoming 235 

Jorge, on the other hand, seems to have started a different stage 
in his life on board that ship, between the marvelous cliffs of the 
Yangtze. From then on, he became quieter, more moderate in his 
attitudes and declarations. I don’t believe he lost faith in the revo- 
lution, but he fell back more on his work and divested it of the 
direct political character that had marked it until then. As if 
the epicure in him had suddenly come out into the open, he threw 
himself into writing his best books, beginning with Gabriela, 
Clove and Cinnamon, a masterpiece brimming with sensuality and 


Ai Ch’ing, the poet, was head of the delegation that guided us. 
Every night Jorge Amado, Zelia, Matilde, Ai Ch’ing, and I ate in 
our private dining room. The table was covered with golden and 
green vegetables, sweet-and-sour fish, duck and chicken cooked 
in unusual ways and always delicious. After several days this exotic 
fare stuck in our throats, no matter how much we liked it. At last 
we found an opportunity to get away from such tasty dishes, but 
our road was rough, and took a turn that became more and more 
twisted, like a branch on one of those contorted trees. 

My birthday happened to come along around this time. Matilde 
and Zelia made plans to treat me to one of our own Occidental 
dinners that would break our diet. It was to be a very modest 
treat: a chicken we would roast our way, with a tomato-and- 
onion salad fixed Chilean-style, to go with it. The women made a 
big mystery of this surprise. They went secretly to our good 
friend Ai Ch’ing. The poet said a bit uneasily that he would have 
to talk to the others on the committee before giving an answer. 

Their decision surprised us. The whole country was going 
through a wave of austerity. Mao Tse-tung had passed up his 
birthday celebration. Considering these severe precedents, how 
could mine be celebrated? Zelia and Matilde replied that what we 
had in mind was just the opposite: in place of that table covered 
with rich food— chickens, ducks, fishes that often went un- 
touched— we would have one single chicken, a very modest 
chicken, prepared, however, our own way, in an oven. A new 
meeting between Ai Ch’ing and the invisible committee in charge 
of austerity measures concluded with the answer, on the follow- 
ing day, that there was no oven on the ship we were traveling on. 
Zelia and Matilde, who had already spoken to the cook, told Ai 



Ch’ing that there was a mistake, a magnificent oven was warming 
up, waiting for our possible chicken. Ai Ch’ing squinted and his 
eyes gazed into the Yangtze’s waters. 

On that July 12, my birthday, we had our roasted chicken on 
the table, the golden booty of the controversy. A couple of toma- 
toes and slices of onion brightened a small dish. The huge table 
stretched on beyond it, embellished, as it was every day, with 
dishes gleaming with luscious Chinese food. 

In 1928 I had passed through Hong Kong and Shanghai. That 
China was a colony ruled with an iron hand— a paradise of gam- 
blers, opium smokers, brothels, nighttime muggers, phony Rus- 
sian duchesses, sea and land pirates. In contrast to the great 
banking institutions in those huge cities, the presence of eight or 
more gray battleships revealed the insecurity and the fear, the 
colonial extortion, the death throes of a world beginning to smell 
like a corpse. With the sanction of contemptible consuls, the flags 
of many countries waved over the privateers of Chinese and 
Malay criminals. The bordellos were financed by international 
companies. I have already told elsewhere in these memoirs how I 
was attacked on one occasion, stripped of clothes and money, and 
abandoned on a Chinese street. 

All these memories came back to me when I arrived in the 
China of the Revolution. This was a new country; I was struck 
by its ethical cleanliness. The defects, the small conflicts and mis- 
understandings, a good deal of what I am recounting, are just 
minor details. My predominant impression has been that of watch- 
ing a triumphant change in the vast land of the oldest culture in 
the world. Countless experiments were underway everywhere. 
Feudal agriculture was about to undergo a change. The moral air 
was as clear as after the passing of a cyclone. 

What has estranged me from the Chinese revolutionary process 
has not been Mao Tse-tung but Mao Tse-tungism. I mean Mao- 
Stalinism, the repetition of a cult to a socialist deity. Who can 
deny Mao the political personality of a great organizer, of the 
great liberator of a people? How could I fail to be impressed by 
his epic halo, his simplicity which is so poetic, so melancholy, and 
so ancient? 

Yet during my trip I saw hundreds of poor peasants, returning 

Voyage and Homecoming 237 

from their labors, prostrate themselves, before putting away their 
tools, to salute the portrait of the modest guerrilla fighter from 
Yunnan, transformed into a god now. I saw hundreds of persons 
waving a little red book, the universal panacea for winning at 
ping-pong, curing appendicitis, and solving political problems. 
This adulation flows from every mouth, and every day, from 
every newspaper and every magazine, from every notebook and 
every other kind of book, from every almanac and every theater, 
from every sculpture and every painting. 

In Stalin’s case, I had contributed my share to the personality 
cult. But in those days Stalin seemed to us the conqueror who had 
crushed Hitler’s armies, the savior of all humanity. The deteriora- 
tion of his character was a mysterious process, still an enigma for 
many of us. 

And now, here in plain sight, in the vast expanse of the new 
China’s land and skies, once more a man was turning into a myth 
right before my eyes. A myth destined to lord it over the revolu- 
tionary conscience, to put in one man’s grip the creation of a 
world that must belong to all. I could not swallow that bitter pill 
a second time. 

In Chungking my Chinese friends took me to the city’s famous 
bridge. I have loved bridges all my life. My father, the railroad 
man, instilled in me a great respect for them. He never called 
them bridges. That would have been a desecration. He called 
them works of art, a distinction he never conceded to paintings, 
sculptures, or poems, of course. Only to bridges. My father 
took me many times to contemplate the marvelous Malleco via- 
duct in the south of Chile. Until now, I had believed that the 
bridge stretching between the green of the southern mountains, 
tall and slender and pure, like a steel violin with taut strings ready 
to be played by the wind of Collipulli, was the most beautiful 
bridge in the world. The monumental bridge that spans the 
Yangtze is something else again. It is China’s most magnificent 
feat of engineering, carried out with help from Soviet engineers. 
And in addition, it represents the end of an age-old struggle. For 
centuries, the city of Chungking was divided by the river, which 
kept it behind the times, slow, and isolated. 

The enthusiasm of the Chinese friends who are showing me the 

2 3 8 


bridge is too much for my poor legs. They make me go up towers 
and climb down to great depths, to look at the water, which has 
been running its course for thousands of years, crossed today by 
this ironwork several kilometers long. Over these rails trains will 
run; these are bicycle paths; this enormous avenue will be for 
pedestrians. All this grandeur overwhelms me. 

In the evening, Ai Ch’ing takes us to dinner in an old restau- 
rant, home of the most traditional kind of cooking: a shower of 
cherry blossoms, a rainbow of bamboo salad, hundred-year-old 
eggs, lips of a young she-shark. Words can’t do justice to this 
Chinese cooking in all its complexity, its fabulous variety, its ex- 
travagant inventiveness, its incredible formality. Ai Ch’ing gives 
us some pointers. The three supreme precepts for a good dinner 
are: first of all, flavor; second, aroma; third, color. These three 
elements of a meal must be respected to the letter. The flavor 
must be exquisite. The aroma must be delicious. And the color 
must be appetizing and harmonious. In this restaurant where we 
are going to eat— Ai Ch’ing said— another virtuoso element comes 
into play: sound. To the huge porcelain dish surrounded by deli- 
cacies is added, at the last minute, a small cascade of shrimp tails; 
falling onto a red-hot metal griddle, they produce a flute-like 
melody, a musical phrase that is always repeated the same way. 

In Peking we were received by Ting Ling, who headed the 
writers’ committee chosen to welcome Jorge Amado and me. 
Our old friend Siao Emi, the poet, was also there with his German 
wife, a photographer. Everything was pleasant and merry. We 
took a boat ride among the lotus flowers on the huge artificial lake 
built for the amusement of the last Empress. We visited factories, 
publishing houses, museums, and pagodas. We ate in the most 
exclusive restaurant in the world (so exclusive that it has only one 
table), catered by the descendants of the Imperial House. We, the 
two South American couples, met in the home of the Chinese 
writers to drink, smoke, and have a good time, as we would have 
done anywhere on our own continent. 

I would hand the daily newspaper to my young interpreter, 
whose name was Li. Pointing to the impenetrable column of 
Chinese characters with my finger, I would say: “Translate 
for me.” 

Voyage and Homecoming 239 

He would start right in in his newly acquired Spanish. He read 
me editorials on agriculture, accounts of Mao Tse-tung’s swim- 
ming feats, Mao-Marxist apologies, military news that bored me 
the moment he began. 

“Stop,” I would say. “Maybe you’d better read to me from this 

And so I got the surprise of my life one day when I put my 
finger in a sore. It was a reference to a political trial in which the 
accused were the very friends we were seeing every day. They 
were still part of our “welcoming committee.” The trial seemed 
to have been underway for some time, but they had never said a 
word about being under investigation, nor had they mentioned 
that their futures hung by a thread. 

Times had changed. All the flowers were wilting. When these 
flowers bloomed, on orders from Mao Tse-tung, innumerable slips 
of paper had appeared in factories and workshops, in univer- 
sities and offices, on farms and in hamlets, denouncing injustices, 
extortions, dishonest actions by leaders and bureaucrats. And just 
as the war against the flies and the sparrows had been called to a 
halt by order of the supreme commander, when it was disclosed 
that their destruction would bring unexpected consequences, so 
the period that had come in with the opening of the corollas also 
ended drastically. A new order came from above: hunt out the 
rightists. And immediately, in every organization, on every job, in 
every home, the Chinese began to force confessions out of their 
neighbors or to confess their own rightism. 

My friend, the novelist Ting Ling, was accused of having had a 
love affair with one of Chiang Kai-shek’s soldiers. It was true, but 
it had happened before the -great revolutionary movement. She 
gave up her lover for the Revolution, and from Yenan, with her 
baby in her arms, she made the long march of those heroic years. 
But this did not help her. She was stripped of her position as 
president of the Writers’ Union and sentenced to wait on tables at 
the restaurant of the same Writers’ Union she had headed for so 
many years. However, she did her work as a waitress with so 
much pride and dignity that she was soon transferred to the 
kitchen in a remote peasants’ commune. This is the last news I had 
of this great Communist writer, one of the most important figures 
of Chinese letters. 



I don’t know what became of Siao Emi. As for Ai Ch’ing, the 
poet who accompanied us everywhere, his fate was very sad. First 
he was sent off to the Gobi Desert. Later he was allowed to write, 
as long as he never signed his writings with his own name, a name 
already famous in and outside China. So he was condemned to 
literary suicide. 

Jorge Amado had left for Brazil. I would take my leave a little 
later with a bitter taste in my mouth. I still have it. 


I have returned to the Soviet Union and have been invited to 
make a trip to the south. When I get out of the airplane, after 
crossing vast territories, I have left behind me the great steppes, 
the factories and the highways, the large Soviet cities and the 
smaller towns. I have come to the imposing Caucasus Mountains 
populated by firs and wild animals. At my feet, the Black Sea has 
dressed up in blue to receive us. An overpowering scent of blos- 
soming orange trees comes from everywhere. 

We are in Sukhumi, capital of Abkhazia, a small Soviet repub- 
lic. This is legendary Colchis, the land of the Golden Fleece, 
which, six centuries before Christ, Jason had come to steal— the 
Greek country of the Dioscuri. Later, in a museum, I will see an 
enormous bas-relief in Greek marble, recently dredged out of the 
waters of the Black Sea. On these shores the Hellenic gods cele- 
brated their mysteries. Today the mystery has been replaced by 
the simple, hard-working life of the Soviet people. These are not 
the same people you see in Leningrad. This land of sunlight, 
wheat, and huge vineyards has another tone, a Mediterranean 
accent. These men walk differently, these women have the eyes 
and hands of Italian or Greek women. 

I am living in the home of the novelist Simonov for a few days 
and we go swimming in the Black Sea’s warm waters. Simonov 
shows me the beautiful trees in his orchard. I recognize them and 
at each name he gives me I repeat like a patriotic peasant: “We 
have it in Chile. We also have this kind in Chile. And that one, 

Simonov looks at me with a waggish smile. I tell him: “I’m 

Voyage and Homecoming 241 

really sorry that you’ll probably never see the wild grapevine at 
my home in Santiago, or the poplars gilded by the Chilean 
autumn. There’s no other gold like it. If only you could see the 
cherries blossom in spring and know the scent of Chile’s boldo 
tree. If you could see how the peasants set the golden ears of com 
on the roofs along the Melipilla road. If you could dip your 
feet in the pure, cold waters of Isla Negra. But, my dear Simonov, 
countries put up barriers, they play at being enemies, they ex- 
change fire in cold wars, and we humans are cut off from one 
another. We reach the sky in fantastic rockets, but we don’t 
reach our hands out in brotherly love.” 

“Perhaps things will change,” Simonov says, smiling, and he 
flings a white stone at the gods submerged in the Black Sea. 

The pride of Sukhumi is its fine collection of monkeys. Taking 
advantage of its subtropical climate, the Institute of Experimental 
Medicine has bred every kind of monkey in the world there. Let’s 
go in. In huge cages we shall see fidgety and stolid monkeys, 
enormous and minuscule ones, hairless and hairy ones, monkeys 
with thoughtful faces or with a spark in their eyes. There are also 
sullen monkeys, and despotic ones. 

There are gray monkeys and white monkeys; apes with tri- 
colored rumps; thickset, serious ones, and others that are polyga- 
mous and won’t let their females eat without permission, which 
they concede only after solemnly devouring their own food. 

The most advanced biological studies are conducted at this in- 
stitute. The monkey is used for the study of the nervous system, 
of heredity, and for delicate investigations into the mystery of life 
and its prolongation. 

A small she-monkey with two babies catches our eye. One 
follows her around constantly, and she carries the other in her 
arms with human tenderness. The director tells us that the small 
monkey she babies so much is not hers but an adoptive child. She 
had recently given birth when another female, who had also just 
had a baby, died. This mother promptly adopted the orphan. 
From then on, her mother love, her every minute of sweetness, 
was given to the adopted child even more than to her own. The 
scientists believed that such intense maternal calling would lead 
her to adopt other babies that were not hers, but she has rejected 

one after the other. Her attitude obeyed not simply a life prin- 
ciple but an awareness of the solidarity of mothers. 


Now we are flying toward a hard-working and legendary 
country. We are in Armenia. Far off, to the south, Mt. Ararat’s 
snowy peak towers over Armenia’s history. This, according to 
the Bible, is where Noah’s ark came aground to repopulate the 
earth. A hard undertaking, because Armenia is rocky and vol- 
canic. The Armenians farmed this land with untold sacrifice and 
raised their national culture to the highest place in the ancient 
world. The socialist society has brought extraordinary develop- 
ment and flowering to this noble, martyred nation. For centuries, 
Turkish invaders massacred the Armenians or made them their 
slaves. Every rock on the plateaus, every tile in the monasteries 
has a drop of Armenian blood. This country’s socialist renaissance 
has been a miracle and gives the lie to those who speak, in bad 
faith, of Soviet imperialism. In Armenia I visited spinning mills 
that employ five thousand workers; immense irrigation and power 
works; and other powerful industries. I covered the cities and 
rural areas from end to end and I saw only Armenians, Armenian 
men and women. I met only one Russian, a blue-eyed engineer 
among the thousands of black eyes of this dark-skinned people. 
The Russian was running a hydroelectric plant on Lake Sevan. 
The surface area of the lake, whose waters empty out through 
just one channel, is too large. The precious water evaporates and 
parched Armenia is unable to gather its riches and put them to use. 
To beat the evaporation, the river has been widened. Thus the 
lake’s level will be lowered, and at the same time, with the 
added water in the river, eight hydroelectric stations, new indus- 
tries, gigantic aluminum plants, electric power and irrigation for 
the whole country, will be created. I shall never forget my visit to 
that hydroelectric plant overlooking the lake, whose pure waters 
mirror Armenia’s unforgettable blue sky. When the journalists 
asked me for my impressions of Armenia’s ancient churches and 
monasteries, I answered them, stretching things a little: “The 
church I like best is the hydroelectric plant, the temple beside the 

Voyage and Homeco?mng 243 

I saw many things in Armenia. I think Erivan is one of the most 
beautiful cities I have seen; built of volcanic tuff, it has the har- 
mony of a pink rose. I shall never forget my visit to the astro- 
nomical observatory of Binakan, where I saw the writing of the 
stars for the first time. The trembling light of the stars was picked 
up; very fine mechanisms were taking down the palpitation of the 
stars in space, like an electrocardiogram of the sky. In those 
graphics I observed that each star has its own distinct way of 
writing, tremulous and fascinating, but unintelligible to the eyes 
of an earth-bound poet. 

At the zoo in Erivan I went straight to the condor’s cage, but 
my countryman did not recognize me. There he stood in a comer 
of his cage, bald-pated, with the skeptical eyes of a condor with- 
out illusions, a great bird homesick for our cordilleras. I looked at 
him sadly, because I was going back to my country and he would 
remain behind bars forever. 

My experience with the tapir was something different. Erivan’s 
zoo is one of the few that own a tapir from the Amazon, the 
remarkable animal with an ox’s body, a long-nosed face, and 
beady eyes. I must confess that tapirs look like me. This is no 

Erivan’s tapir was drowsing in his pen, near the pond. When he 
saw me his eyes lit up; perhaps we had met in Brazil once. The 
zoo keeper asked me if I would like to see him swim and I an- 
swered that I would go around the world just for the pleasure of 
watching a tapir swim. They opened a small door for him. He 
threw me a happy look and plunged into the water, puffing like 
some fabled sea horse, like a hairy triton. He rose up, lifting his 
whole body out of the water; he dived under, stirring up a stormy 
rush of waves; he surfaced, drunk with joyfulness, he huffed and 
puffed, and then he went on with his incredible acrobatics at top 

“We’ve never seen him so happy,” the zoo keeper said to me. 

At noon, during the lunch given for me by the Society of 
Writers, I told, in my speech of thanks, about the feats of the 
Amazonian tapir and I spoke about my passion for animals. I 
never skip a visit to the zoo. 

In his answering speech, the president of the Armenian writers 
said: “Why did Neruda have to go visit our zoo? This visit to the 



Society of Writers would have been enough for him to find all the 
animal species. Here we have lions and tigers, foxes and seals, 
eagles and serpents, camels and macaws.” 


I stopped off in Moscow on the way back. For me, this city is 
the seat of so many accomplished dreams, and also the residence 
of some of my dearest friends. For me, Moscow is a feast. As soon 
as I get there, I go out alone into the streets, happy to breathe, 
whistling cuecas. I look at the faces of the Russian men, the eyes 
and the braids of the Russian women, the ice cream sold on street 
comers, the popular paper flowers, the shop windows, in search 
of new things, little things that make life important. 

Once again I went to visit Ehrenburg. The first thing my good 
friend showed me was a bottle of Norwegian liquor, aqua vitae. 
The label had a great painted sailing ship. Somewhere else were 
the departure and return dates of the ship that had taken this 
bottle to Australia and brought it back to its native Scandinavia. 

We began to talk about wines. I recalled my young days, when 
the wines of our country traveled abroad, in great demand be- 
cause of their excellence. They were always too expensive for 
those of us who wore railwayman’s clothing and lived a stormy 
Bohemian life. 

In every country I would take an interest in tracking down the 
wine, from the time its life began at the “feet of the people” until 
it was bottled in green glass or cut crystal. In Galicia, Spain, I 
enjoyed drinking Ribeiro wine, which is sipped from a cup and 
leaves a thick stain like blood on the porcelain. I remember a full- 
bodied wine in Hungary, called bull’s blood, whose onslaughts 
make the violins of the gypsies tremble. 

My great-great-grandparents owned vineyards. Parral, the 
town where I was born, is the cradle of the crude musts. From my 
father and uncles, Don Jose Angel, Don Joel, Don Oseas, and 
Don Amos, I learned to tell the difference between new wine 
and filtered wine. It was hard for me to follow their liking for 
the unrefined wine that runs out of the cask, with its original 
and irreducible heart. As in all things, it was difficult for me to 
return to the primitive, the early lustiness, after having learned 

Voyage and Homecoming 245 

the subtle distinctions of taste, having relished the epicurean bou- 
quet. The same thing occurs in art: you wake up one morning 
with Praxiteles’ Aphrodite and end up living with the savage 
statuary of Oceania. 

It was in Paris that I tasted a noble wine in the noblest of 
homes. The wine was Mouton-Rothschild, with an impeccable 
body, undescribable aroma, perfect smoothness. It was at the 
home of Aragon and Elsa Triolet. 

“I’ve just received these bottles and I am opening them espe- 
cially for you,” Aragon said. 

And he told me the story. 

The German armies were gaining ground in French territory. 
France’s most intelligent soldier, poet and officer Louis Aragon, 
reached an advance post. He commanded a detachment of male 
nurses. His orders were to go beyond this post to a building 
located three hundred meters ahead. The captain in charge there 
stopped him. He was Count Alphonse de Rothschild, younger 
than Aragon and as quick-blooded as he. 

“You can’t pass beyond this point,” he said. “The German fire 
is too close.” 

“My instructions are to get to that building,” Aragon replied 

“My orders are that you are not to go on, you must stay right 
here,” the captain replied. 

Knowing Aragon as well as I do, I am sure that during the 
argument sparks flew like hand grenades, answers like sword 
thrusts. But it didn’t even last ten minutes. Suddenly, before the 
startled eyes of Rothschild and Aragon, a grenade from a German 
mortar struck the building, converting it instantly to smoke, rub- 
ble, and smoldering ashes. 

And so France’s first poet was saved, thanks to the stubborn- 
ness of a Rothschild. 

Ever since then, on the anniversary of this incident, Aragon 
receives several bonnes bouteilles of Mouton-Rothschild from the 
vineyards of the count who was his captain during the last war. 

Now I am in Moscow, at Ilya Ehrenburg’s home. This great 
guerrilla of literature, as dangerous to Nazism as a division of 



forty thousand men, was also a refined epicure. I could never tell 
if he knew more about Stendhal or about foie gras. He relished 
Jorge Manrique’s verses with as much gusto as he showed when 
he tasted Pommery et Greno. He was in love with everything 
French, with the body and soul of delicious and fragrant France. 

Anyway, after the war, the rumor spread through Moscow that 
some mysterious bottles of French wine would go on sale. On its 
march toward Berlin, the Red Army had taken a fortress-cave 
filled with Goebbels’s insane propaganda and also with the wines 
he had appropriated from the cellars of noble France. Papers and 
bottles were shipped to the general headquarters of the victorious 
army, the Red Army, which took the documents in for study but 
didn’t know what to do with the bottles. 

They were splendid glass bottles that flashed their dates of 
birth on very special labels. All were of illustrious origin and 
celebrated vintage. Romanee, Beaune, Chateauneuf-du-Pape 
rubbed elbows with blond Pouilly, amberescent Vouvray, vel- 
vety Chambertin. The entire collection was distinguished by 
chronological indications of the most excellent vintages. 

Socialism’s egalitarian attitude saw to it that these sublime 
trophies from the French wine presses were distributed in the 
liquor stores at the same prices as Russian wines. As a restrictive 
measure, it was decided that each buyer could purchase only a 
limited, specified number of bottles. Socialism’s intentions are the 
best, but we poets are the same everywhere. Each of my com- 
rades-in-letters sent relatives, neighbors, friends to buy, at incred- 
ibly low prices, bottles of incredibly high lineage. They were sold 
out in one day. 

A quantity I will not disclose reached the home of Ehrenburg, 
Nazism’s unconditional enemy. And that’s why I find myself in 
his company now, talking of wines and drinking with him a part 
of Goebbels’s cellar, in honor of poetry and victory. 


Magnates have never invited me to their big mansions and, truth- 
fully, I was never very curious about them. In Chile the national 
pastime is the closing sale. People crowd to the weekly auctions 
that are so typical of my country. Each of these lordly homes is 

Voyage and Homecoming 247 

doomed. When the time comes, to the highest bidder go the grat- 
ing that wouldn’t let me pass— me or the common people of 
whom I am one— and with the grating, armchairs, bleeding 
Christs, old-fashioned portraits, dishes, spoons, and the sheets be- 
tween which so many useless lives were procreated, all change 
hands. The Chilean loves to walk in, touch, and look. Few of 
them buy anything, in the end. Then the building is pulled down 
and fragments of the house are put up for sale. The buyers carry 
off the eyes (the windows), the intestines (the staircases); 
the floors are the feet; and finally, even the potted palms are 
divided up. 

In Europe, on the other hand, the huge houses are maintained. 
We can sometimes get a glimpse of the portraits of dukes and 
duchesses whom only some lucky painter saw in the buff, to the 
delight of those of us who still enjoy painting and those curves. 
We can also pry into the secrets, the curious crimes, the wigs, and 
those astounding files, the tapestried walls, which absorbed so 
many conversations destined for the electronic entertainments of 
the future. 

I was invited to Rumania and arrived as planned. The writers 
took me to their collective country house, in the middle of the 
beautiful Transylvanian forests, to get some rest. The Rumanian 
writers’ residence had once been the palace of Carol, the madcap 
monarch whose extra-regal loves became the talk of the world. 
The palace, with its modern furniture and its marble baths, was 
now at the service of Rumanian thought and poetry. I had a very 
good night’s sleep in Her Majesty the Queen’s bed, and the next 
day was dedicated to visiting other castles converted into 
museums and houses for rest and vacationing. I was accompanied 
by the poets Jebeleanu, Beniuc, and Radu Boureanu. In the ver- 
dant morning, deep into the fir groves of the ancient royal parks, 
we sang out of tune, laughed at the top of our lungs, shouted out 
poems in every language. Rumanian poets, with their long history 
of suffering during the monarchic-Fascist regimes, are at once the 
most courageous and the most cheerful poets in the world. That 
band of troubadours, as Rumanian as the birds in their forest lands, 
so unshakable in their patriotism, so entrenched in their revolu- 
tion, and so intoxicatingly in love with life, opened my eyes. In 
few places have I acquired so many brothers so quickly. 



I told the Rumanians about my previous visit to another noble 
palace, to their great delight. It was the Liria Palace, in wartime 
Madrid. While Franco marched with his Italians, his Moors, and 
his swastikas, dedicated to the holy work of killing Spaniards, the 
militiamen occupied this palace, which I had so often seen— every 
time I went down Argiielles Street— in 1934 and 1935. I would 
give it a glance of respect, not from a feeling of servitude toward 
the new Duke and Duchess of Alba, who had no power over me, 
a hopeless American, and a half-savage poet, but fascinated by 
the majesty that silent, white sarcophagi possess. 

When war broke out, the Duke stayed in England; after all, 
his last name is really Berwick. He remained there with his best 
paintings and his richest treasures. With the Duke’s flight in mind, 
I told the Rumanians that after China’s liberation, Confucius’ last 
descendant, who had made a fortune from a temple and the bones 
of the dead philosopher, also went away, to Formosa, with paint- 
ings, table linens, and dinnerware. And with the bones, too. He 
must have settled there comfortably, charging visitors a fee to 
view the relics. 

From Spain in those days the appalling news went out to the 
rest of the world: historic palace of the duke of alba looted 


I went to see the palace, since I would be allowed in now. The 
purported looters were at the door in blue overalls, guns in hand. 
The first bombs were being dropped on Madrid by the German 
army’s planes. I asked the militiamen to let me pass. They went 
over my papers carefully. I was all set to take my first steps into 
the opulent halls when they stopped me, horrified: I hadn’t wiped 
my shoes on the huge mat at the entrance. The floors literally 
gleamed like mirrors. I wiped my shoes and went in. The empty 
rectangles on the walls showed where the absent paintings had 
been. The militiamen knew everything. They told me that for 
years the Duke had been keeping the paintings in a London bank, 
in a good, strong safe. The only things of any importance in the 
great hall were trophies of the hunt, innumerable antlered heads 
and snouts of a variety of small beasts. The most striking trophy 
was an immense white bear standing on two legs in the center of 
the room, with its two polar arms open wide and a stuffed head 

Voyage and Homecoming 


that was laughing, with all its teeth bared. It was the militiamen’s 
favorite, they brushed it every morning. 

Naturally, I was interested in the bedrooms where so many 
Albas had slept, with their nightmares brought on by the Flemish 
ghosts who came to tickle their feet at night. Those feet were 
gone, but the largest collection of shoes I have ever seen was 
conspicuously there. The last Duke had not increased his art col- 
lection, but his collection of shoes was unbelievable and incalcu- 
lable. Long, glassed-in shelves that reached the ceiling held 
thousands of shoes. There were special ladders, like those in li- 
braries, so one could take the shoes down, daintily by the heels, 
perhaps. I looked closely. There were hundreds of pairs of very 
fine riding boots, yellow ones and black ones. There were also 
some of those high shoes, with little plush vests and mother-of- 
pearl buttons. And scores of overshoes, pumps, and gaiters, all 
with their shoe trees inside, making them look as if they had solid 
legs and feet at their beck and call. If the glass case were opened, 
they would all run off to London in search of the Duke! One 
could have a wonderful time with these shoes, which ranged the 
length of three or four rooms. A wonderful time with one’s eyes, 
and only with one’s eyes, because the militiamen, shouldering 
arms, wouldn’t let a fly touch those shoes. “Culture,” they said. 
“History,” they said. And I thought of the poor boys in espa- 
drilles, holding off Fascism on the terrible summits of Somosierra, 
buried in snow and mud. 

Beside the Duke’s bed was a little print in a gold frame whose 
Gothic characters caught my eye. Caramba!, I thought, it must be 
the Albas’ family tree. I was wrong. It was Rudyard Kipling’s 
“If”— that uninspired, sanctimonious poetry, precursor of the 
Reader’s Digest, whose intellectual level, in my opinion, was 
no higher than that of the Duke of Alba’s shoes. May the British 
Empire forgive me! 

The Duchess’s bathroom will be exciting, I thought. It evoked 
so many things. Above all, that madonna reclining in the Prado 
Museum, whose nipples Goya set so far apart that one thinks how 
the revolutionary painter must have measured the distance kiss by 
kiss until he had left her an invisible necklace reaching from 
breast to breast. But I was wrong again. The bear, the musical- 
comedy boot shoppe, “If,” and, finally, instead of a goddess’s bath 

I found a circular room, fake Pompeii, with a step-down tub, 
vulgar little alabaster swans, tacky lampadaires; in short, a bath- 
room for an odalisque in a Hollywood film. 

I was leaving the place with the glum feeling that I had been 
cheated, when I had my reward. The militiamen invited me to 
lunch. I went down to the kitchens with them. Forty or fifty of 
the Duke’s household servants and attendants, cooks and gar- 
deners, continued to cook for themselves and the militiamen who 
guarded the mansion. They considered me a distinguished visitor. 
After some whispering, much coming and going, and receipts 
being signed, they brought out a dusty bottle. It was a hundred- 
year-old Lachryma Christi, from which I was barely allowed to 
take a few sips. It was a molten wine, made of honey and fire, 
severe and impalpable at the same time. Those tears of the Duke 
of Alba’s will not be easy for me to forget. 

A week later the German bombers dropped four incendiary 
bombs on the Liria Palace. From the terrace of my house I saw 
the two birds of omen flying over. A red glare told me immedi- 
ately that I was watching the palace’s final minutes. 

“That same afternoon I went past the smoldering ruins,” I tell 
the Rumanian writers, to end my story. “There I discovered a 
touching detail. With fire falling from the sky, with explosions 
shaking the earth, and the bonfire growing, the noble militiamen 
managed to save the white bear only. They were almost killed in 
the attempt. Beams were crashing down, everything was ablaze, 
and the huge well-preserved animal refused to pass through win- 
dows or doors. I saw it again, for the last time, with its white arms 
open wide, dying of laughter, on the palace garden’s lawn.” 


Moscow again. On the morning of November 7, I watched the 
people’s parade, its athletes, its glowing Soviet youth. They 
marched with sure and firm step through Red Square. They were 
being observed by the sharp eyes of a man dead many years, the 
founder of this security, this joy, and this strength: Vladimir 
Ilyich Ulyanov, immortal Lenin. 

This time there were few weapons in the parade. But for the 
first time the enormous intercontinental missiles were rolled out. I 

Voyage and Homecoming 


could almost have touched those huge cigars with my hand— so 
innocent-looking, yet capable of carrying atomic destruction to 
any point on the planet. 

The two Russians who had come back from the sky were being 
decorated that day. I felt as if I too had wings. The poet’s job 
is, in great measure, like a bird’s. It was precisely in the streets of 
Moscow, along the shores of the Black Sea, among the mountain 
passes of the Soviet Caucasus, that I was tempted to write a book 
on the birds of Chile. The poet from Temuco had every intention 
of investigating birds, of writing about the birds of his remote 
land, about sparrows and chercanas, mockingbirds and finches, 
condors and queltehues, while two human birds, two Soviet 
cosmonauts, soared into space and left the whole world dum- 
founded with admiration. Feeling them over our heads, seeing 
with our own eyes the cosmic flight of the two men, we all held 
our breaths. 

They were decorated that day. Next to them were their rela- 
tives— their origins, their earthly roots, roots of the people. The 
old men had huge peasant moustaches, the old women’s heads 
were covered with the large shawl that is so typical of the villages 
and the countryside. The cosmonauts were just like us, people 
from the country, the village, the factory, the office. In Red 
Square, Nikita Khrushchev welcomed them in the name of the 
Soviet nation. Later we saw them in St. George’s Hall. Gherman 
Titov, the number-two astronaut, a nice boy, with big radiant 
eyes, was introduced to me. 

“Tell me. Commander, as you flew through the cosmos and 
looked at our planet, could you make out Chile clearly?” It was 
like saying to him: “You understand, don’t you, that the impor- 
tant thing about your trip was to see little Chile from up there.” 

He did not smile as I expected him to, but thought it over for a 
few seconds and said to me: “I do remember some yellow moun- 
tain ranges in South America. You could tell that they were very 
high. Maybe that was Chile.” 

Of course it was Chile, Comrade. 

On the fortieth anniversary of the socialist revolution, I left 
Moscow by train, for Finland. As I crossed the city on my way to 
the station, fireworks, huge sheaves of skyrockets— luminous. 

* 5 * 


phosphorescent, blue, red, violet, green, yellow, orange— soared 
very high, like volleys of cheers, like signals of mutual under- 
standing and friendship going out from this night of victory to- 
ward all the countries in the world. 

In Finland I bought a narwhal’s tooth and we continued our 
journey. In Gothenburg we boarded the ship that would take us 
back to America. America and my country also keep step with 
life and with the times. Well, when we passed through Venezuela 
en route to Valparaiso, Perez Jimenez, the tyrant, the U.S. State 
Department’s pet baby, bastard son of Trujillo and Somoza, sent 
enough soldiers for a war, to stop me and my wife from getting 
off the ship. But by the time I reached Valparaiso, freedom had 
already kicked out the Venezuelan despot; the majestic satrap had 
hightailed it to Miami like a rabbit running in its sleep. The world 
has been moving fast since the first sputnik’s flight. Who would 
have believed that the first person to knock on my cabin door in 
Valparaiso to welcome us would be Simonov, the novelist I had 
left swimming in the Black Sea? 

Poetry Is an Occupation 


I t has been the privilege of our time— with its wars, revolutions, 
and tremendous social upheavals— to cultivate more ground for 
poetry than anyone had ever imagined. The common man has had 
to confront it, attacking or attacked, in solitude or with an enor- 
mous mass of people at public rallies. 

When I wrote my first lonely books, it never entered my mind 
that, with the passing years, I would find myself in squares, 
streets, factories, lecture halls, theaters, and gardens, reading my 
poems. I have gone into practically every comer of Chile, scatter- 
ing my poetry like seed among the people of my country. 

I am going to recount what happened to me in Vega Central, 
the largest and most popular market in Santiago, Chile. An endless 
line of pushcarts, horse wagons, oxcarts, and trucks come in at 
dawn, bringing vegetables, fruits, edibles from all the track farms 
surrounding the voracious capital. The market men— a huge union 
whose members are badly paid and often go barefoot— swarm 
through the coffee shops, flophouses, and cheap eating places of 
the neighborhoods near the Vega. 

One day someone came to fetch me in a car, which I climbed 
into without knowing exactly where or why I was going. I had a 
copy of my book Espana en el corazon in my pocket. In the car 
they explained to me that I was invited to give a lecture at the 
union hall of the Vega market loaders. 

When I entered the ramshackle hall, a chill like that in Jos6 

2 54 


Asuncion Silva’s poem “Nocturno” ran through me, not only 
because winter was so far along but because the atmosphere in the 
place gave me quite a shock. About fifty men sat waiting for me 
on crates or improvised wooden benches. Some had a sack tied 
around their waist like an apron, others covered their bodies with 
old patched undershirts, and still others braved Chile’s cold July, 
bare from the waist up. I sat down behind a small table that 
separated me from that unusual audience. They all looked at me 
with the fixed, coal-black eyes of the people of my country. 

I remembered old Lafertte. He had given such impassive spec- 
tators, who don’t move a facial muscle but fasten their eyes on 
you, a name that made me chuckle. Once, on the nitrate pampa, | 
he had said to me: “Look, there at the back of the hall, leaning 
against that column, two Mohammedans are watching us. All 
they need is the burnoose to look like the fearless believers of the 

How should I handle this audience? What could I speak to 
them about? What things in my life would hold their interest? I 
could not make up my mind, but disguising my desire to run out 
of there, I took the book I was carrying with me and said to 
them: “I was in Spain a short time back. A lot of fighting and a 
lot of shooting were going on there. Listen to what I’ve written 
about it.” 

I should explain that my book Espafia en el corazon has never 
seemed to me an easy book to understand. It tries to be clear, but 
it is steeped in the torrent of overwhelming and painful events. 

Well, I thought I would just read a handful of poems, add a 
few words, and say goodbye. But it didn’t work out that way. 
Reading poem after poem, hearing the deep well of silence into 
which my words were falling, watching those eyes and dark eye- 
brows following my verses so intently, 1 realized that my book 
was hitting its mark. I went on reading and reading, affected by 
the sound of my own poetry, shaken by the magnetic power that 
linked my poems and those forsaken souls. 

The reading lasted more than an hour. As I was about to leave, 
one of the men rose to his feet. He was one of those who had 
a sack knotted around his waist. “I want to thank you for all 
of us,” he spoke out. “I want to tell you, too, that nothing has 
ever moved us so much.” 

When he finished talking, he couldn’t hold back a sob. Several 


Poetry Is an Occupation 

others were also weeping. I walked out into the street between 
moist eyes and rough handclasps. 

Can a poet still be the same after going through these trials of 
fire and ice? 

When I want to remember Tina Modotti, I have to work as 
hard as if I were trying to scoop up a handful of mist. Fragile, 
almost invisible. Had I or had I not known her? 

She was still very lovely then: a pale oval framed by two black 
wings of hair, gathered at the back, and huge velvety eyes that go 
on watching across the years. Diego Rivera put her face into one 
of his murals, glorified with crowns of plants and spears of corn. 

This Italian revolutionary, an extraordinary artist with a 
camera, went to the Soviet Union a long time ago to take photo- 
graphs of its people and monuments. But she was caught up in 
the uncontainable rhythm of socialism in full progress and flung 
her camera into the Moscow River, vowing to consecrate her life 
to the most menial work of the Communist Party. I met her while 
she was carrying out this vow in Mexico, where I was deeply 
moved by her death one night. 

This was in 1941, and Vittorio Vidali, Commandant Carlos, 
was her husband. Tina Modotti died of a heart attack in a taxi, on 
her way home. She knew that she had a bad heart, but she never 
mentioned it, so that they wouldn’t make her cut down on her 
revolutionary work. She was always ready to do whatever no one 
else wanted to do: sweeping offices, going long distances on foot, 
sitting up nights to write letters and translate articles. She nursed 
the Republican wounded during the Spanish war. 

She had gone through a tragic experience while living with the 
remarkable Cuban youth leader Julio Antonio Mella, exiled in 
Mexico at the time. Gerardo Machado, the tyrant, sent several 
gunmen from Havana to kill the revolutionary leader. They were 
coming out of the movies one afternoon, Tina leaning on Mella’s 
arm, when he collapsed under a burst of machine-gun fire. They 
toppled to the ground together, she with the blood of her dead 
companion all over her, while the assassins fled, protected by the 
police. To crown it all, the same authorities who protected the 
criminals tried to pin the murder on Tina Modotti. 

Twelve years later, Tina Modotti’s strength quietly ebbed 
away. The Mexican reactionaries tried to expose her to infamy 



again by surrounding her death with scandal, as they had once 
tried to involve her in Mella’s death. Carlos and I stood watch 
over the tiny corpse. Seeing such a tough and courageous man 
suffer is not easy. That lion bled when they rubbed the caustic 
poison of slander into his wound by reviling Tina Modotti again, 
now that she was dead. Red-eyed from weeping, Commandant 
Carlos let out a roar of pain; in her small exile’s coffin, Tina 
seemed to be made of wax. I was helplessly silent before the grief 
that filled the room. 

The newspapers covered whole pages with sensational filth. 
They called her the “mystery woman from Moscow.” Some 
added: “She died because she knew too much.” Deeply moved by 
Carlos’s savage grief, I decided to do something, and I wrote a 
poem challenging those who were smearing our dead friend’s 
good name. I sent it to all the newspapers, without any hope that 
it would be published. Wonder of wonders! On the following 
day, instead of the new and juicy exposes promised the evening 
before, it was my outraged and insolent poem that made the front 
pages of all the newspapers. 

The poem’s title was “Tina Modotti ha muerto” (“Tina 
Modotti Is Dead”). I read it that morning at the cemetery in 
Mexico, where we left her body to lie forever under a slab of 
Mexican granite. My lines are engraved on that stone. 

The Mexican press did not write another line against her. 

It was in Lota, many years ago. Ten thousand miners had 
shown up for the meeting. The coal-mining district, in constant 
agitation over its traditional poverty, had filled the Lota town 
square with miners. The political speakers talked on and on. An 
odor of coal and sea brine floated in the sultry noon air. The ocean 
was close by; under its waters the dark tunnels, where these men 
dug out the coal, stretched for more than ten kilometers. 

Now, at high noon, they listened. The speaker’s platform was 
very high and from it I could make out that sea of blackened hats 
and miners’ helmets. I was the last speaker. When my name and 
my poem “Nuevo canto de amor a Stalingrado” (“New Love 
Song to Stalingrad”) were announced, something extraordinary 
occurred, a ceremony I can never forget. 

As soon as they heard my name and the title of the poem, the 

Poetry Is an Occupation 

1 57 

huge mass of people uncovered their heads. They bared their 
heads because, after all the categorical and political words that 
had been spouted, my poetry, poetry itself, was about to speak. 
From the raised platform I saw that immense movement of hats 
and helmets: ten thousand hands went down in unison, in a 
ground swell impossible to describe, a huge soundless wave, a 
black foam of quiet reverence. 

Then my poem outdid itself. It took on, as it never had before, 
a tone of combat and liberation. 

This other incident happened when I was still quite young. I 
was the student poet wearing a dark cape, thin and underfed like 
any poet in those days. I had just published Crepusculario and I 
weighed less than a black feather. 

I went into a run-down cabaret with some friends. This was in 
the heyday of tangos and troublemaking gangs of toughs. Sud- 
denly the dancing stopped and the tango broke up like a glass 
smashed against a wall. 

Two notorious thugs were gesturing animatedly and insulting 
each other in the middle of the dance floor. Whenever one 
stepped forward to get in a blow, the other backed away, and 
with him the crowd of music lovers huddling for protection be- 
hind the barrier of tables also retreated. They looked like two 
primitive beasts dancing in a clearing in a primordial forest. 

Without thinking, I stepped forward and lashed out from be- 
hind my scrawny impotence: “You miserable bullies, fat-brained 
apes, you despicable scum, stop annoying people who’re here to 
dance, not to watch a two-bit farce!” 

They exchanged looks of surprise, they couldn’t believe their 
ears. The shorter one, who had been a boxer before becoming a 
thug, stepped in my direction, ready to murder me. And the go- 
rilla would have done it, if a well-aimed fist had not floored him. 
His opponent had finally decided to hit him. 

While the fallen champion was being dragged out like a sack, 
and people at the tables were holding bottles out to us, and the 
dance girls beamed at us eagerly, the giant who had landed the 
knock-out blow tried, understandably, to join the victory celebra- 
tion. But I turned on him like a firebrand: “Get away from here! 
You’re no better than he is! ” 



A little later, my moment of glory was over. My friends and I 
had gone down a narrow corridor, when we made out a kind of 
mountain, with the waist of a panther, blocking the exit. It was 
the other pugilist from the underworld, the winner I had whipped 
with my words, who barred our way, waiting to get even. 

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said to me. 

He headed me toward another door, with a light shove, while 
my friends took to their heels like scared rabbits. I stood there 
helplessly, face to face with my nemesis. I glanced around quickly 
to see what I could grab to defend myself. Nothing. There was 
nothing. Only the heavy marble tops of the tables and the 
wrought-iron chairs, which I couldn’t possibly lift. Not a flower- 
pot or a bottle or even a measly walking stick someone might 
have forgotten there. 

“Let’s have a little talk,” the man said. 

I realized how useless it was to try anything, and I thought he 
just wanted to size me up before devouring me, like a tiger facing 
a little fawn. I sensed that my only defense lay in not showing 
how scared I was. I returned the shove he had given me, but I 
couldn’t budge him an inch. He was a brick wall. 

Suddenly he threw back his head and the look of a wild animal 
left his eyes. “Are you Pablo Neruda, the poet?” he said. 

“Yes, I am.” 

He hung his head. “What a bastard I am! Here I am, face to 
face with the poet I truly admire, and he has to tell me what a no- 
good bum I am!” And he went on wailing, with his head in his 
hands: “I’m just a hood, the other guy I had the fight with is a 
cocaine pusher. We’re the scum of the earth. But there’s one clean 
thing in my life. It’s my girl, my girl’s love for me. Look at her, 
Don Pablito. Look at her picture. I’ll tell her sometime that you 
actually held it in your hands. It’ll make her so happy.” 

He handed me the photograph of a smiling girl. “She loves me 
because of you, Don Pabiito, because of your poems, which 
we’ve learned together by heart.” 

And right then and there he started reciting: “Deep inside you, 
a sad boy like me kneels, with his eyes on us . . 

Just then the door burst open. It was my friends coming back 
with armed reinforcements. I saw their shocked faces crowding 
the doorway. 


Poetry Is an Occupation 

I walked out slowly. The man stayed behind alone, without 
moving an inch, reciting: “For that life burning in her veins they 
would have to murder my hands”— defeated by poetry. 

The airplane piloted by Powers on a spying mission over Soviet 
territory fell from an unbelievable altitude. T wo fantastic missiles 
had hit it and brought it down from the clouds. Newsmen rushed 
to the secluded mountain spot from which the rockets had left the 

The marksmen were two solitary boys. In that vast world of fir 
trees, rivers, and snows, they munched apples, played chess and 
the accordion, read books, and stood watch. They had aimed 
upward, to defend their Russian motherland’s wide sky. 

They were plied with questions: “What kind of food do you 
eat? Who are your parents? Do you like to dance? What books 
do you read?” 

Answering this last question, one of the young men responded 
that they read poems and that Pushkin, the classic Russian writer, 
and the Chilean Neruda were two of their favorite poets. 

I felt infinitely happy when I heard about this. The missile, 
which had gone up so high and forced pride to plunge so low, had 
somehow carried an atom of my impassioned poetry. 


. . . How many works of art . . . There's not enough room m 
the world for them any more . . . They have to hang outside 
the rooms . . . How many books . . . How many little books 
... Who can read them all . . . ? If they were food ... If, 
during a wave of great hunger, we tossed a salad, cut them up, 
poured some dressing on them . . . We've had it .. . We're 
fed up ... The world is drowning in a flood tide of books 
. . . Reverdy said to me: “I notified the post office not to de- 
liver them. I couldn't open them. I had no more space. They were 
climbing up the walls, l was afraid of a disaster, they were going 
to cave in on my head . . ." Everybody knows Eliot . . . Be- 
fore becoming an illustrator and a playwright, and writing bril- 
liant criticism, he used to read my poems ... I was flattered 

2 60 


. . . No one understood them better . . . Then one day he 
started to read me his own, and I ran off selfishly, protesting: 
“ Don't read them to me, don't read them to me" ... I locked 
myself in the bathroom, but Eliot read them to me through the 
shut door ... I was depressed . . . Fraser, the Scottish poet, 
was there ... He blasted me: “ Why do you treat Eliot like 
that?" ... I replied: “I don't want to lose my reader. I have 
cultivated him carefully. He has become familiar even with the 
wrinkles in my poetry . . . Eliot has so much talent . . . He 
can draw ... He writes essays . . . But I want to keep this 
reader, to preserve him, to water him like an exotic plant . . . 
You understand me, Fraser . . ." Because, actually, if this con- 
tinues, poets will publish only for other poets . . . Each will pull 
out his little book and put it in the other's pocket . . . his poem 
. . . and he will leave it on the other's plate . . . One day 
Quevedo left his under a king's napkin . . . that was truly worth- 
while . . . Like poetry in a town square at high noon ... Or 
letting the books wear out, fall in shreds between the fingers of 
mankind . . . Well, this thing, where one poet publishes for 
other poets, doesn't tempt me, doesn't lure me, only drives me to 
bury myself deep m nature's woods, before a rock or a wave, far 
from the publishing houses, from the printed page . . . Poetry 
has lost its ties with the reader, he's out of reach ... It has to 
get him back ... It has to walk in the darkness and encounter 
the heart of man, the eyes of woman, the strangers in the streets, 
those who at twilight or in the middle of the starry night feel the 
need for at least one line of poetry ... This visit to the unex- 
pected is worth all the distance covered, everything read, every- 
thing learned ... We have to disappear into the midst of those 
we don't know, so they will suddenly pick up something of ours 
from the street, from the sand, from the leaves that have fallen for 
a thousand years in the same forest . . . and will take up gently 
the object we made . . . Only then will we truly be poets . . . 
In that object, poetry will live . . . 


I was bom in 1904. In 1921 one of my poems came out in a maga- 
zine. In 1923 my first book, Crepusculario, was published. I am 
writing these recollections in 1973. Fifty years have gone by since 


Poetry Is an Occupation 

that exciting moment when the poet hears the first cries of the 
printed infant, alive, kicking, and doing its best, like any other 
newborn, to call attention to itself. 

You can’t live an entire lifetime with a language, stretching it 
lengthwise, exploring it, poking around in its hair and its belly, 
without having this intimacy become second nature to you. 
That’s what happened to me with Spanish. The spoken language 
has other dimensions: the written language acquires unexpected 
elasticity. Using language like clothes or the skin on your body, 
with its sleeves, its patches, its transpirations, and its blood and 
sweat stains, that’s what shows a writer’s mettle. This is style. I 
found that my time was in a ferment over the revolutionary trends 
in French culture. These always attracted me, but somehow they 
were not the right fit of clothes for my body. Huidobro, a Chil- 
ean poet, took charge of the French innovations, adapting them 
admirably to his way of life and expression. At times, it seemed to 
me, he outdid his models. Something of the kind happened, on a 
larger scale, when Dario burst in upon the scene of Hispanic 
poetry. But Dario was a huge elephant, a music-maker who shat- 
tered all the glass windows in the Spanish language of his time to 
let in the air of the world. And it came in. 

Our language sometimes separates us Latin Americans from the 
Spaniards. However, it is the ideology of the language, more than 
anything else, that causes the split. Gdngora’s frozen beauty is not 
made for our latitudes, but there is no poetry from Spain, not 
even the most recent, without an aftertaste of Gongora, without 
his richness. Our American stratum is dusty rock, crushed lava, 
clay mixed with blood. We don’t know how to work in crystal. 
Our elegant poets sound hollow. A single drop of Martin Fierro’s 
wine or of Gabriela Mistral’s turbid honey is enough to put them 
in their place: standing stiffly in the parlor like vases with flowers 
from someone else’s garden. 

Spanish became a gilded language after Cervantes, it took on a 
courtly elegance, it lost the wild power it had brought in from 
Gonzalo de Berceo and the Archpriest of Hita, it lost the genital 
fire that still burned in Quevedo. The same thing happened in 
England, in France, in Italy. Chaucer’s extravagances, as well as 
Rabelais’s, were castrated; the precious style inherited from Pe- 
trarch made emeralds and diamonds glitter, but the source of 
greatness began to bum itself out. 



This earlier wellspring had everything to do with the whole 
man, his freedom, his prolific nature, his excesses. 

At least that was my problem, although I didn’t put it in those 
terms, not even to myself. If my poetry has any meaning at all, it 
is this tendency to stretch out in space, without restrictions, and 
not be happy to stay in a room. I had to break out of my limited 
world by myself, not having traced it out within the framework 
of a distant culture. I had to be myself, striving to branch out like 
the very land where I was born. Another poet of this same hemis- 
phere helped me along this road, Walt Whitman, my comrade 
from Manhattan. 


The Songs of Maldoror, basically, form part of a great serial 
story. Don’t forget that Isidore Ducasse took his pseudonym 
from a novel by the feuilletonist Eugene Sue: Latreaumont, writ- 
ten in Chatenay in 1837. But Lautreamont, we know, went much 
further than Latreaumont. He went much lower, he wanted to 
be Satanic. And much higher, a fallen archangel. At the height of 
his unhappiness, Maldoror celebrates the marriage of heaven and 
hell. Fury, dithyrambs, and agony make up the irresistible waves 
of Ducasse ’s rhetoric. Maldoror: Maldolor. 

Lautreamont planned a new phase; he repudiated his gloomy 
side and did the prologue to a new optimistic poetry he never had 
the chance to write. The young Uruguayan was carried off by 
death in Paris. But the promised change in his poetry, the swing 
toward goodness and health, which he did not fulfill, has stirred 
up much criticism. He is venerated for his sorrow and condemned 
for his move toward joy. The poet must torment himself and 
suffer, he must live in despair, he must go on writing his song of 
despair. This has been the opinion on one social level, the opinion 
of one class. This cut-and-dried formula was followed by many 
who succumbed to the suffering imposed by unwritten, but still 
cut-and-dried, laws. These invisible laws condemned the poet to 
the hovel, worn shoes, the hospital, the morgue. That made 
everyone happy: everybody had a good time and few tears were 

Things changed because the world changed. And we poets sud- 

Poetry Is an Occupation 263 

denly led the rebellion toward joy. The unhappy writer, the 
crucified writer are part of the ritual of happiness in the twilight 
of capitalism. Taste was skillfully channeled toward the build-up 
of misery as a catalyst for great creativity. Decadent living and 
suffering were prescribed for writing poetry. Holderlin, mad and 
unhappy; Rimbaud, embittered, perpetually wandering; Gerard 
de Nerval, hanging himself from a lamppost in a small, run-down 
side street; they gave the last years of the century not only the 
paroxysm of beauty but the road of suffering. Dogma made this 
road of thorns the poet’s inbred prerequisite for the creations of 
the spirit. 

Dylan Thomas was the last of those steered to his martyrdom. 

Oddly, these ideas of the old surly bourgeoisie still hold true in 
the minds of some. Minds that don’t take the world’s pulse 
through its nose, which is where it should be taken, because the 
world’s nose smells what is in the future. 

There are critics like creeping gourd plants whose guide shoots 
and tendrils seek out the latest sigh in fashionable trends, terrified 
that they will miss out on something. But their roots remain 
steeped in the past. 

We poets have the right to be happy, as long as we are close to 
the people of our country and in the thick of the fight for their 

“Pablo is one of the few happy men I have known,” Ilya 
Ehrenburg says somewhere in his writings. I am that Pablo, and 
Ehrenburg is not wrong. 

That’s why I am amazed that magazine reviewers, who should 
know better, worry about my material well-being, although my 
personal affairs should not be part of the critic’s concern. I realize 
that the chance that I may be happy offends many. But the fact is, 
I am happy inside. I have a clear conscience and a restless in- 

To those critics who seem to begrudge poets a better standard 
of living, I suggest that they should be proud that books of 
poetry are printed, sold, and fulfill their mission of giving critics 
something to think about; they should be happy that writers are 
remunerated and that some, at least, are able to make a living from 
their honest labor. The critics should proclaim their pride in this, 
instead of always trying to spoil things. 



That’s why a short time ago, when I read the paragraphs de- 
voted to me by a young critic, a brilliant ecclesiastic, I didn’t think 
his brilliance prevented him from blundering badly. 

According to him, my poetry was weakened by the happiness 
in it. He prescribed suffering for me. According to this theory, 
appendicitis should produce excellent prose, and peritonitis might 
possibly produce some sublime poems. 

I continue to work with the materials I have, the materials 1 am 
made of. With feelings, beings, books, events, and battles, I am 
omnivorous. I would like to swallow the whole earth. I would 
like to drink the whole sea. 


As an active poet, I fought against my own self-absorption and so 
was able to settle the debate between the real and the subjective 
deep within myself. I’m not trying to hand out advice, but my 
experiences may possibly help others. Let’s take a quick look at 
the results. 

It is natural for my poetry to be subjected to serious criticism as 
well as exposed to the vicious attacks of slander. It’s part of the 
game. I have no voice in this part of it, but I do have a vote. For 
the critic who gets down to essentials, my vote is in my books, in 
all my poetry. For the unfriendly slanderer, I also have a vote, 
and it, too, consists of my unbroken creative activity. 

If what I am saying sounds vain, you are right. Mine is the 
vanity of the craftsman who has practiced his craft for a good 
many years with a love that has never faltered. 

And if I am satisfied about one thing, it is that one way or 
another, at least in my own country, I have made people respect 
the occupation of poet, the profession of poetry. 

At the time I began to write, there were two kinds of poets. 
Some belonged to the upper crust and earned respect because of 
their money, which helped them reach legitimate or illegitimate 
standing. The other family of poets were the militant wanderers 
of poetry, bar lions, fascinating madmen, tormented sleepwalkers. 
And let’s not overlook those writers tied down, like the galley 
slave to his oar, to the little stool in government offices. Their 
dreams were almost always smothered by mountains of official 

Poetry Is an Occupation 265 

stamped paper and by terrible fear of their superiors or of being 
laughed at. 

I started life more naked than Adam but with my mind made 
up to maintain the integrity of my poetry. This ingrained attitude 
was not only valuable in itself but also stopped fools from laugh- 
ing at me. And afterwards, the fools who had a heart and con- 
science accepted, like the good people they were, the grim realities 
stirred up by my poetry. And those who were ill-willed gradually 
became afraid of me. 

And so Poetry, with a capital P, was shown respect. Not only 
poetry but poets as well. All poetry and all poets. 

I am keenly aware of this service to the people, and I won’t let 
anyone snatch this merit from me, because I like to wear it like a 
medal. They can question everything else, but what 1 am telling 
now is solid history. 

The poet’s die-hard enemies will put forward many arguments 
that are no longer valid. They called me a hungry bum when I 
was young. Now they attack me by making people think I am 
Mr. Big, owner of a fabulous fortune, which I don’t own but 
would love to own, among other things to upset them even more. 

Others measure the length of my lines to prove that I chop 
them up into small fragments or stretch them out too far. It 
doesn’t matter. Who sets up the rules about shorter or longer, 
narrower or wider, yellower or redder lines? The poet who 
writes them is the one who determines what’s what. He deter- 
mines it with his breath and his blood, with his wisdom and his 
ignorance, because all this goes into the making of the bread of 

The poet who is not a realist is dead. And the poet who is only 
a realist is also dead. The poet who is only irrational will only be 
understood by himself and his beloved, and this is very sad. The 
poet who is all reason will even be understood by jackasses, and 
this is also terribly sad. There are no hard and fast rules, there 
are no ingredients prescribed by God or the Devil, bur these two 
very important gentlemen wage a steady battle in the realm of 
poetry, and in this battle first one wins and then the other, but 
poetry itself cannot be defeated. 

It’s obvious that the poet’s occupation is abused to some extent. 
So many new men and women poets keep cropping up that soon 



we’ll all look like poets, and readers will disappear. We’ll have to 
go looking for readers on expeditions that will cross the desen 
sands on camels or circle the sky on spaceships. 

Poetry is a deep inner calling in man; from it came liturgy, the 
psalms, and also the content of religions. The poet confronted 
nature’s phenomena and in the early ages called himself a priest, to 
safeguard his vocation. In the same way, to defend his poetry, 
the poet of the modem age accepts the investiture earned in the 
street, among the masses. Today’s social poet is still a member 
of the earliest order of priests. In the old days he made his pact 
with the darkness, and now he must interpret the light. 


I don’t believe in originality. It is just one more fetish made up in 
our time, which is speeding dizzily to its collapse. I believe in 
personality reached through any language, any form, any creative 
means used by the artist. But out-and-out originality is a modern 
invention and an electoral fraud. There are some who want to be 
elected Poet Laureate in their country, their language, or in the 
world. So they run in search of electors, they fling insults at those 
who seem close enough to compete for the scepter, and poetry 
turns into a farce. 

Still, it is essential to keep one’s interior bearings, to stay in 
control of the additional material that nature, culture, and a so- 
cially-committed life contribute to bringing out the best in the 

In the past, the most noble, the consummate poets, like Quevedo, 
for example, wrote poems headed with this warning signal: “Imita- 
tion of Horace,” “Imitation of Ovid,” “Imitation of Lucretius.” 

For my part, I keep up my own tone, which gathered strength 
by its own nature as time went along, like all living things. There 
is no doubt that feelings are a major part of my earliest books, and 
so much the worse for the poet who does not respond with song 
to the tender and furious summons of the heart! Yet, after forty 
years of experience, I believe that the poet can take a firmer grip 
on his emotions in his work. I believe in guided spontaneity. For 
this, the poet must always have some reserves, in his pocket, let’s 
say, in case of emergency. First, a reserve of mental notes on 


Poetry Is an Occupation 

established poetic forms, of words, sounds, or images, the ones 
that buzz right past us like bees. They must be caught quickly 
and put away in one’s pocket. I am iazy in this respect, but I 
know I am passing on some good advice. Mayakovsky had a little 
notebook he was constantly going into. There is also the reserve 
of feelings. How can these be preserved? By being conscious of 
them when they come up. Then, when we face the paper, this 
consciousness will come back to us more vividly than the emotion 

In a substantial part of my work I have tried to prove that the 
poet can write about any given subject, about something needed 
by a community as a whole. Almost all the great works of antiq- 
uity were done strictly on request. The Georgies are propaganda 
for the farming of the Roman countryside. A poet can write for a 
university or a labor union, for skilled workers and professionals. 
Freedom was never lost simply because of this. Magical inspira- 
tion and the poet’s communication with God are inventions dic- 
tated by self-interest. At the moments of greatest creative inten- 
sity, the product can be partially someone else’s, influenced by 
readings and external pressures. 

Suddenly I interrupt these observations, which are a bit on the 
theoretic side, and I start remembering the literary life in Santiago 
when I was a young man. Painters and writers worked in a cre- 
ative ferment, without public response. An autumnal lyricism 
hovered over painting and poetry. Each artist tried to be more 
anarchic, more demoralizing, more disorderly than the others. 
There were deep and troubled stirrings among Chile’s social 
classes. Alessandri made subversive speeches. On the nitrate 
pampas the workers, who would create the most important 
people’s movement on the continent, were organizing. Those 
were the holy days of the struggle. Carlos Vicuna, Juan Gan- 
dulfo. I quickly joined the student anarcho-syndicalist movement. 
My favorite book was Andreyev’s Sacha Yegulev. Others read 
Artsybashev’s pornographic novels and attributed an ideological 
thrust to them, exactly as people do today with existentialist por- 
nography. Intellectuals made themselves at home in bars. The 
good old wine gave poverty a glittering golden aura that lasted till 
the next morning. Juan Egana, an extraordinarily gifted poet, was 
going to pieces, headed for the grave. A story was making the 



rounds that he had inherited a fortune and had left all his money 
in bills on a table in an abandoned house. His drinking compan- 
ions, who slept by day, went out at night to fetch wine by the 
keg. But Juan Egana’s poetry is a beam of moonlight that has 
never sent the slightest shudder through our “lyric forest.” This 
was the romantic title of the wonderful modernist anthology put 
out by Molina Nunez and O. Segura Castro, a very complete 
book, filled with greatness and generosity. It is the Summa Poetica 
of a chaotic era, marked by huge gaps as well as pure, resplendent 
poems. The personality who made the greatest impression on me 
was Aliro Oyarzun, the dictator of the new literature. No one 
remembers him now. He was an emaciated Baudelairean, a re- 
markable decadent, Chile’s Barba Jacob, tormented, cadaverous, 
handsome, and mad. He spoke with a cavernous voice from the 
top of his tall stature. He invented a hieroglyphic style of stating 
aesthetic problems which is peculiar to a certain segment of our 
literary world. His voice soared; his forehead was a yellow dome 
of the temple of intelligence. He would say, for example: “the 
circle’s circularity,” “the Dionysian in Dionysius,” “the obscurity 
of the obscure.” Yet Aliro Oyarzun was no fool. In him were 
combined the paradisiacal and the infernal sides of a culture. He 
was a cosmopolite who gradually killed his real nature with his 
theories. They say he wrote his only poem in order to win a bet, 
and I can’t understand why that poem is not in all the anthologies 
of Chilean poetry. 


Christmas is approaching. Each Christmas takes us closer to the 
year 2000. We poets of today have been struggling and singing 
for happiness in the future, for the peace of tomorrow, for uni- 
versal justice, for the bells of the year 2000. 

Back in the thirties, Socrates Aguirre, the subtle and excellent 
man who was my superior at the consulate in Buenos Aires, asked 
me, one December 24, to play Santa Claus, or Old Saint Nick, at 
his house. I have bungled many things in my life, but nothing had 
ever turned out as badly as my Old Saint Nick. The wads of 
cotton in my beard kept slipping off, and I got things all mixed up 

Poetry Is an Occupation 269 

when I passed the toys around. And how could I disguise the voice 
that the climate of southern Chile had turned into a twang, nasal 
and unmistakable, from my earliest years? I had to use a trick: 1 
spoke to the children in English, but the children pierced me with 
several pairs of black or blue eyes and showed more suspicion than 
seemed proper in well-brought-up youngsters. 

Who would have guessed that among those children was one 
destined to become a dearest friend, an important writer, the 
author of one of the best biographies written about me? I am 
speaking of Margarita Aguirre. 

In my house I have put together a collection of small and large 
toys I can’t live without. The child who doesn’t play is not a 
child, but the man who doesn’t play has lost forever the child 
who lived in him and he will certainly miss him. I have also built 
my house like a toy house and I play in it from morning till 

These are my own toys. I have collected them all my life for 
the scientific purpose of amusing myself alone. I shall describe 
them for small children and for others of all ages. 

I have a sailboat inside a bottle. In fact, I have more than one. 
It’s a whole fleet. They have their written names, masts, sails, 
prows, and anchors. Some come from far away, from other tiny 
little seas. One of the most beautiful was sent to me from Spain, in 
payment for the rights to a book of my odes. Above, on the main- 
mast, is our flag, with its tiny lone star. Almost all the others, 
however, are the work of Senor Carlos Hollander. Senor Hol- 
lander is an old seaman and he has reproduced for me many of 
the famous and majestic ships that came from Hamburg, Salem, 
or the Breton coast to load nitrate or hunt whales in the South 

When I go down Chile’s long highway to find the old sailor in 
Coronel, and into the southern city’s smell of coal and rain, I actu- 
ally enter the finest shipyard in the world. In the small parlor, 
the dining room, the kitchen, the garden, are accumulated, all in 
order, the parts that will be inserted into the clear bottles which 
the pisco has vacated. Don Carlos’s whistle is a magic wand touch- 
ing prows and sails, foresails and topsails. Even the tiniest puff of 
smoke from the port passes through his hands and is re-created to 




rise from a new bottled ship, gleaming and fresh, ready to set out 
for some chimerical sea. 

In my collection the ships that have come out of the modest 
hands of the navigator from Coronel stand out from the others 
bought in Antwerp or Marseilles. For not only did he give them 
life, he also embellished them with his knowledge, pasting a label 
on each that tells the name and number of the ship’s feats, the 
voyages it saw through wind and tide, the cargoes it distrib- 
uted, fluttering across the Pacific with sails we shall never see 

In bottles I have famous ships like the powerful Potost, and the 
grand Prussia, from Hamburg, wrecked in the English Channel in 
1910. Captain Hollander also delighted me by making me two 
versions of the Maria Celeste, which in 1882 was converted into a 
star, into a mystery of mysteries. 

I am not about to reveal the navigational secret that lives on in 
its own translucence. I mean, how the tiny ships got into their 
loving bottles. Being a professional deceiver, and in order to mys- 
tify, I gave a detailed description, in an ode, of the long-drawn- 
out and minutely detailed work of the mysterious shipbuilders and 
recounted how they went in and out of their sea bottles. But the 
secret still stands. 

The figureheads are my largest toys. Like so many of my 
things, these figureheads have been photographed for newspapers 
and magazines and have been discussed in a friendly light or with 
spite. Those who are well disposed toward them laugh under- 
standing^ and say, “What a crazy guy! Look at the kind of thing 
he’s decided to collect! ” 

The mean ones see things differently. Soured by my collections 
and by the blue flag with a white fish which I hoist at my home in 
Isla Negra, one of them said, “I don’t run up my own flag. I don’t 
have figureheads.” 

The poor man was whining like a little kid who is jealous be- 
cause other kids have tops. All this time, my figureheads from the 
sea smiled, flattered by the envy they aroused. 

One should really refer to them as prow figureheads. They are 
figures with a bosom, sea statues, effigies from lost oceans. When 
he built his ships, man was trying to endow the prows with a 
higher meaning. In ancient days he placed on his ships the figures 

2 ? 1 

Poetry Is an Occupation 

of birds, totem birds, mythical birds cut in wood. Then in the 
nineteenth century the whaling ships had symbolic figures carved 
for them: half-nude goddesses, or republican matrons with 
Phrygian caps. 

I own both male and female figureheads. The smallest and most 
delightful, which Salvador Allende has often tried to take from 
me, is the Maria Celeste. She belonged to one of the smaller 
French vessels and may possibly have sailed only in the Seine’s 
waters. She is darkish, carved in oak; many years and voyages 
have given her a dusky complexion for all time. She is a small 
woman who looks like she’s flying, with signs of a wind carved 
into her lovely Second Empire clothes. Her porcelain eyes look 
out over the dimples in her cheeks, into the horizon. And strange 
as it seems, these eyes shed tears every winter. No one can explain 
it. The brown wood may possibly have pores that collect the 
humidity. But the fact is that those French eyes weep in winter- 
time and 1 see Maria Celeste’s precious tears roll down her small 
face every year. 

Images, Christian or pagan, awaken religious sentiments in 
human beings. Another figurehead of mine spent several years 
where it suited her best, facing the sea, in her slanting pose, ex- 
actly as she had sailed on her ship. One afternoon Matilde and I 
discovered some of Isla Negra’s devout ladies who had climbed 
over the fence, like newspapermen trying to get an interview, and 
were kneeling in the garden before the figurehead, in the glow of 
quite a few candles, which they had lit to her. Maybe a new 
religion had been born. At any rate, although the tall, solemn 
figure resembled Gabriela Mistral very much, we had to discour- 
age these pious ladies from so innocently continuing to worship the 
image of a lady of the sea who had sailed the most sinful oceans of 
our sinful planet. 

I have taken her out of the garden since then, and she is now 
closer to me, beside the fireplace. 


A bibliophile of little means is likely to suffer often. Books don’t 
slip from his hands but fly past him through the air, high as birds, 
high as prices. 

And yet, after many tries, out comes the pearl. 



I remember the bookseller Garcia Rico’s surprise, in Madrid in 
1934, when I offered to buy an old set of Gongora’s works that 
cost only a hundred pesetas, in monthly payments of twenty. It 
was very little money, but I didn’t have it. I paid punctually, in 
five months. It was the Foppens edition. This seventeenth- 
century Flemish publisher printed, in peerless type, the work of 
the masters of Spain’s Golden Age. I only enjoy reading Quevedo 
in editions where the sonnets are bravely deployed for battle, like 
tough fighting ships. 

Later I lost myself in the forest of bookshops, in the suburban 
nooks and crannies of second-hand bookstalls and the cathedral 
naves of the marvelous bookstores of France and England. My 
hands came out covered with dust, but from time to time I ob- 
tained a treasure, or at least the thrill of thinking that I had. 

Ready cash from literary prizes helped me to buy some editions 
at outlandish prices. My library grew to a considerable size. An- 
tique books of poetry brightened it, and my bent for natural 
history filled it with magnificent books on botany, illustrated in 
full color, and books on birds, insects, and fish. I found wonderful 
travel books in various parts of the world; incredible Don 
Quixotes, printed by Ibarra; Dante folios in exquisite Bodoni 
type; even a Moliere from a very limited edition prepared, “Ad 
usum Delphini,” for the son of the King of France. 

But, actually, the loveliest things I ever collected were my sea- 
shells. They gave me the pleasure of their extraordinary struc- 
ture: a mysterious porcelain with the purity of moonlight 
combined with numerous tactile, Gothic, functional forms. 

Thousands of tiny undersea doors opened for me to dip into, 
from the day Don Carlos de la Torre, the noted Cuban malacolo- 
gist, gave me the best specimens from his collection. Since then I 
have crossed the seven seas, wherever my travels took me, stalk- 
ing and hunting down shells. But I must confess that it was the sea 
of Paris that, wave after wave, washed ashore most of my shells 
for me. Paris had transported all the mother-of-pearl of Oceania 
to its naturalist shops, to its flea markets. 

Finding the exquisite contours of the Oliva textilina under the 
city’s sargasso, among broken lamps and old shoes, was easier than 
plunging my hands in among the rocks of Vera Cruz or Baja 
California. Or catching the spear of quartz that tapers off, like a 


Poetry Is an Occupation 

sea poem, into Rostellaria fusus. No one can take away the thrill I 
felt when I pulled out of that sea the Spondylus roseo, a large 
oyster studded with coral spines. Or when, farther on, I opened 
the white Spondylus with its snowy barbs like stalagmites in a 
Gongoran grotto. 

Some of these trophies may have had a historic past. I remem- 
ber that in the Peking Museum the most sacred box of mollusks 
from the China Sea was opened to give me the second of the only 
two specimens of the Thatcheria mirabilis in existence. And thus I 
was able to own that remarkable work of art in which the ocean 
gave China the style for temples and pagodas that still survives in 
those latitudes. 

It took me thirty years to collect a large library. My shelves 
held incunabula and other books I treasured: first editions of 
Quevedo, Cervantes, Gongora, as well as Laforgue, Rimbaud, and 
Lautreamont. I felt as if these pages still preserved the touch of 
the poets I loved. I had manuscripts by Rimbaud. In Paris, Paul 
Eluard gave me, as a birthday present, Isabelle Rimbaud’s two 
letters to her mother, written in the hospital at Marseilles where 
the wanderer had one leg amputated. These were treasures 
coveted by the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and by Chicago’s 
voracious book collectors. 

I covered so many parts of the world that my library grew 
much too large, beyond the normal bounds of a private library. 
One day I gave away the wonderful collection of shells it had 
taken me twenty years to put together and the five thousand 
volumes I had selected with so much love from so many coun- 
tries. I gave them to my country’s university. And they were 
accepted by the rector, with beautiful words, as a dazzling gift. 

Any genuine person will imagine the rejoicing with which this 
gift of mine must have been received. But there are also people 
with twisted minds. An official critic wrote some furious articles 
protesting vehemently. When will it be possible to stop interna- 
tional Communism? he raved. Another gentleman made a fiery 
speech in parliament attacking the university for having accepted 
my marvelous cunabula and incunabula, and threatened to cut off 
the subsidies the national institute receives. Between them, the 
writer of the articles and the parliamentarian launched an icy 



wave over the small world of Chile. The rector of the university 
paced up and down the halls of Congress, looking sick. 

Incidentally, twenty years have gone by and no one has ever 
seen my books or my shells again. It’s as if they had slipped back 
into the bookstores and the ocean. 


Three days ago I came back to my home in Valparaiso, after < 
being away a long time. Huge cracks in the walls were just like 
wounds. Disheartening rugs of shattered glass covered the floors 
of the rooms. The clocks, also on the floor, grimly recorded the 
time of the earthquake. How many lovely things Matilde’s broom 
was now sweeping up from the floor; how many rare objects the 
earth’s tremors had turned into trash. 

We have to clean up, to put things back, and start all over 
again. Paper is hard to find in the middle of the mess; and then, it’s 
hard to collect one’s thoughts. 

My last work was a translation of Romeo and Juliet and a long 
love poem in archaic meter, a poem that was never completed. 

Come on, love poem, get up from among the broken glass, the 
time to sing has come. 

Help me, love poem, to make things whole again, to sing in 
spite of pain. 

It’s true that the world does not cleanse itself of wars, does not 
wash off the blood, does not get over its hate. It’s true. 

Yet it is equally true that we are moving toward a realization: 
the violent ones are reflected in the mirror of the world, and their 
faces are not pleasant to look at, not even to themselves. 

And I go on believing in the possibility of love. I am convinced 
that there will be mutual understanding among human beings, 
achieved in spite of all the suffering, the blood, the broken glass. 


My wife is from the provinces, like me. She was born in a south- 
ern city, Chilian, fortunately famous for its peasant-made pot- 
tery, unfortunately notorious for its disastrous earthquakes. 

Poetry Is an Occupation 2 yj 

Speaking to her in my Cien sonetos de amor, I have told her all 1 

Perhaps these poems make clear how much she means to me. 
Life and the land brought us together. 

It may interest no one else, but we are happy. We share the 
time we have together in long sojourns on Chile’s lonely coast. Not 
in summer, when the coast, dried up by the sun, is yellow and 
desert-like. But in winter, yes; when the rains and the cold dress it 
up in an extraordinary flowering of green and yellow, blue and 
purple. Sometimes we go up from the wild and solitary ocean to 
the nervous city of Santiago, where together we weather the 
complicated existence of others. 

Matilde sings my songs in a powerful voice. 

Everything I write and everything I have is dedicated to her. 
It’s not much, but it makes her happy. 

Now I’m watching her sink her tiny shoes into the mud in the 
garden, and then she also sinks her tiny hands as deep as the plant 
has gone down. 

From the earth— with her feet and hands and eyes and voice— 
she brought me all the roots, all the flowers, all the sweet-smelling 
fruits of happiness. 


A man was asleep in his room in a Paris hotel. Since he was an 
incurable night owl, don’t be surprised when I tell you it was 
twelve noon and the man was still sleeping. 

He had to wake up. The wall on his left suddenly collapsed, 
demolished. Then the one in front of him crashed down. It wasn’t 
a bombing. From the freshly opened pits, moustachioed workers 
emerged, picks in hand, and taunted the sleeper: “Eh, leve-toi, 
bourgeois! Have a drink with us!” 

The champagne was uncorked. The mayor came in, with a 
tricolor sash across his chest. Music burst out, the notes of the 
Marseillaise. What was behind such strange goings-on? Well, two 
lines of the Paris Metro, then under construction, had met under- 
ground, just below the floor of the dreamer’s hotel room. 

From the moment that man told me his story, I decided to 
become his friend, or rather his devotee, his disciple. Since such 



extraordinary things happened to him, and I didn’t want to miss 
any of them, I followed him across several countries. Captivated 
by this phenomenon’s wild imagination, Federico Garcia Lorca 
adopted a position similar to mine. 

Federico and I were sitting in the Correos Cafe, across from 
Madrid’s Cibeles Fountain, when the sleeper from Paris burst in 
upon our tete-a-tete. Though he was strapping and round as a 
globe, he looked sick. Once again, something words failed to 
describe had occurred to him. He had been in his truly modest 
Madrid hideaway, trying to set his music sheets in order. For I 
have forgotten to mention that our hero was a wonderful com- 
poser. And what happened? 

“A car pulled up at the door of my hotel. Then I heard foot- 
steps come up the stairs and go into the room next to mine. Later 
the newcomer began to snore. It started off as a whisper. Then 
the air shuddered. The closets, the walls moved under the rhyth- 
mic impact of the tremendous snores.” 

It had to be some wild animal. When the snoring broke into a 
torrent, our friend no longer had any doubts: it was the Homed 
Boar. In other countries his uproar had shaken basilicas, blocked 
highways, stirred up angry seas. What was this planetary menace 
up to, this abominable monster that threatened the peace of all 

Every day he told new and chilling episodes about the Homed 
Boar. Federico, I, Rafael Alberti, the sculptor Alberto, Fulgencio 
Diaz Pastor, and Miguel Hernandez— we welcomed him eagerly, 
and bid him goodbye anxiously. 

Then one day he arrived with his old round-bellied laughter. 
And he told us: “The terrifying problem has been solved. The 
German Graf Zeppelin has agreed to transport the Homed Boar. 
It will drop him in the Brazilian jungle. He will live off the giant 
trees. There’s no danger that he will drink up the Amazon at one 
sitting. There he will go on deafening the earth with his thunder- 
ous snoring.” 

Listening to him, Federico exploded with laughter till he had to 
shut his eyes. Then our friend mentioned the time he went to 
send off a telegram and the telegraph operator persuaded him 
never to send any more telegrams, only letters, because people 
were scared out of their wits when they received those winged 


Poetry Is an Occupation 

messages, some even died of shock before opening them. He also 
told us about the time he went to look in on an interesting auction 
of thoroughbred horses in London. He raised his hand to greet a 
friend, and the auctioneer gave him, for £ 10,000, a mare for 
which the Aga Khan had bid £9,500. “I had to take the mare to 
my hotel and return it the next day,” he said. 

Now the fabulist can’t tell the story of the Homed Boar, or 
any other story. He died here in Chile. In life, Acario Cotapos 
was the name of this spherical Chilean, a composer through and 
through and a prodigal source of unparalleled stories. I had the 
honor of speaking at the funeral of this man whose memory it was 
impossible to bury. All I said was: “Today we deliver into the 
shadows a splendid human being who gave us a star every day.” 


My comrade Paul Eluard died a short time ago. He was so whole- 
some, so solid, that I found it painful and difficult to accept his 
loss. He was a blue and rosy Norman, tough-looking but delicate. 
The war of 1914, in which he was gassed twice, left him with 
shaky hands for the rest of his life. Yet Eluard always made 
me think of a sky-blue color, of deep, still water, of a gentle- 
ness aware of its own strength. Paul Eluard’s poetry was so 
clear, transparent like drops of spring rain against a windowpane, 
that he may have seemed an apolitical man, a poet who would 
have nothing to do with politics. He was not. He had strong ties 
with the people of France, its causes, and its struggles. 

Paul Eluard was firm. A kind of French tower with a passion- 
ate lucidity that is not the same as passionate stupidity, which is so 

In Mexico, where we had gone together, I saw him for the first 
time on the verge of a dark pit— he who always kept a quiet place 
for sadness, a place as ready as the one reserved for wisdom. 

He was worn out. I had convinced him, had dragged him, a 
Frenchman to the core, to that distant land, and there, the same 
day we buried Jose Clemente Orozco, I came down with a dan- 
gerous case of phlebitis that tied me to my bed for four months. 
Paul Eluard felt lonely, lonely and in darkness, as helpless as a 
blind explorer. He didn’t know anyone, no doors were thrown 

2 7 8 


open to him. The loss of his wife weighed heavily on him; he felt 
all alone here, without love. He would say to me: “We have to 
see life together with someone, to share every fragment of life 
with someone. My solitude is unreal, my solitude is killing me.” 

I called up friends and we made him go out. They took him off, 
grumbling, to ride over Mexico’s roads, and at some bend in one 
of those roads he came across love again, his last love: Dominique. 

It’s very hard for me to write about Paul Eluard. I shall go on 
seeing him near me, alive, with the electric blue deepness, that 
could see so much and so far, burning in his eyes. 

He had left French soil, where laurels and roots are woven 
together in a fragrant heritage. His tall stature was all water and 
stone, with ancient vines climbing up on it, bearing flowers and 
flashes of light, nests and transparent songs. 

Transparence, that’s the word. His poetry was crystal hard as 
rock, water standing still in its singing stream. 

Poet of the highest kind of love, fire pure as noon, in France’s 
disastrous days he planted his heart in the center of his country 
and out of it came fire that was decisive in battle. 

And so it was natural for him to join the ranks of the Commu- 
nist Party. Being a Communist, for Eluard, meant reasserting the 
values of humanity and humanism with his poetry and his life. 

Let no one believe that Eluard was less political than poet. His 
clear-sightedness and his formidable dialectical reasoning often 
astonished me. Together we examined many things, men and 
problems of our time, and his lucidity has always been of great 
help to me. 

He did not lose himself in surrealist irrationalism, because he 
was not an imitator but a creator, and as such he pumped bullets 
of clarity and intelligence into the dead body of surrealism. 

He was my friend in everyday life and now I have lost his 
affection, which was part of my daily bread. No one will be able 
to give me what he has taken with him, because his active 
brotherly spirit was one of my life’s treasured luxuries. 

Tower of France, brother! I lean over your closed eyes, they 
will go on giving me the light and the greatness, the simplicity 
and the honesty, the goodness and the naturalness you sowed on 

Poetry Is an Occupation 



I would never call Pierre Reverdy’s poetry magical. This word, 
catchword of an era, is like the hat of a fake magician at a fair: 
no wild pigeon will emerge from it and fly away. 

Reverdy was a physical poet, he named and touched number- 
less aspects of earth and sky. He named the things and the splendor 
of the world. 

His own poetry was like a vein of quartz, subterranean but 
filled with light, inexhaustible. Sometimes it threw off a hard 
glitter, like the sheen of some black mineral tom with difficulty 
from its thick covering of earth. Suddenly it flew out like a spark 
from a match, or hid in the gallery of its mine, far from the light 
of day, but faithful to its own truth. Perhaps this truth, which 
identified the substance of his poetry with nature, this Reverdian 
tranquillity, this unflagging honesty, gradually paved his way to 
oblivion. He was eventually taken for granted by others, like 
a natural phenomenon, a house, river, or familiar street that would 
never change its outward appearance or its place. 

Now that he has gone away, now that a tremendous silence, 
greater than his own noble and proud silence, has carried him off, 
we realize that he is no longer here, that this unique light is 
gone, buried in earth and sky. 

I say that someday his name, like an angel coming back to life, 
will knock down the unjust doors of oblivion. 

Without trumpets, with the lyrical silence of his magnificent 
and enduring poetry around him like a halo, we shall see him at 
the last judgment, at the Essential Judgment, dazzling us with the 
simple timelessness of his work. 


Jerzy Borejsza is no longer waiting for me in Poland. Fate reserved 
for this old emigre the chance to rebuild his country. When he 
went back to it as a soldier, after being away for many years, 
Warsaw was just a pile of rubble. There were no streets, no trees. 
No one was waiting for him. Borejsza, a dynamic wonder, worked 
with his people. Colossal plans sprang from his head, and then a 
tremendous initiative: the House of the Printed Word. One by 

one its stories were built; the biggest rotary printing presses in the 
world arrived; and now thousands upon thousands of books and 
magazines are printed there. Borejsza was a tireless, down-to-earth 
man who converted dreams into action. His daring plans material- 
ized, like the castles in dreams, in the new Poland with its incred- 
ible vitality. 

I hadn’t met him. I went to see him at the vacation camp where 
he was waiting for me, in northern Poland, in the Masurian Lakes 
reg on. 

When I got out of the car, I saw an ungainly man in need of a 
sh ive, wearing only a pair of nondescript shorts. With the energy 
of a wild man, in a Spanish learned from books, he shouted: 
“Pablo, non habras fatiga. Debes tomar reposo.” (Which in 
English would sound something like this: “Pablo, no have tired. 
You must take repose.”) As a matter of fact, he did not let me 
“take repose” at all. His conversation was profuse, multiform, 
surprising, and punctuated by exclamation points. He described 
seven different construction plans to me in the same breath, with 
an analysis of several books that contributed new interpretations 
of history and life thrown in for good measure. “The true hero 
was Sancho Panza, not Don Quixote, Pablo.” For him, Sancho 
was the voice of popular realism, the true center of his world and 
his time. “When Sancho runs things, he does it well, because it is 
the people running things.” 

He used to pull me out of bed early, always shouting at me: 
“You must take repose,” and he would lead me through fir and 
pine forests to show me the convent of a religious sect that had 
migrated from Russia a hundred years before and still clung to its 
old rites. The nuns received him with a blessing. Borejsza was all 
tact and respect with those religious women. 

He was gentle and active. The war years had been terrible. One 
day he showed me the revolver used to execute a war criminal, 
after a summary trial. A notebook had been found where he had 
painstakingly written down all his crimes. Old people and chil- 
dren strangled by his hands, little girls raped. They had surprised 
him in the very village where he had committed his atrocities. 
Witnesses filed past. His incriminating notebook was read to him, 
and the insolent assassin had only this to say for himself: “1 would 
do it again if I could start all over.” In my hands I had the note- 

Poetry Is an Occupation 181 

book, and the revolver that had extinguished the life of a heartless 

They catch eels in the Masurian Lakes, which multiply until 
you lose track of their number. We set out to go fishing very 
early, and we were soon watching the eels, quivering and wet, 
like black belts. 

I became familiar with those waters, their fishermen, and the 
scenery around them. From morning till night, my friend got me 
to go up and come down, to run and to row, to meet people and 
learn all about trees. All this to the shout of: “Here you must take 
repose. There is no place like this for resting.” 

When I left the Masurian Lakes, he gave me a smoked eel, the 
longest I have ever seen. 

This strange walking stick complicated my life. I wanted to eat 
it, because I am very partial to smoked eels, and this one, having 
come straight from its native lake, without a store or any other go- 
between, was above suspicion. But during that time there was 
eel on my hotel menu noon and night, and I didn’t have a chance 
to serve myself my private eel. It started to prey on my mind. 

At night I would put it out on the balcony to get some fresh 
air. Sometimes, in the middle of an absorbing conversation, I re- 
membered that it was noon and my eel was still outdoors, in the 
full sunlight. Then I would lose all interest in the subject under 
discussion and would dash out to put my eel in a cool place in my 
room, in a closet, for instance. 

I finally met an eel lover and gave him, not without qualms, the 
longest, tenderest, and best smoked eel that ever existed. 

Now the great Borejsza, a scrawny, dynamic Quixote, an ad- 
mirer of Sancho Panza like the other Quixote, sensitive and wise, 
builder and dreamer, is resting for the first time. He rests in the 
darkness he loved so much. Near his resting place, a world he 
gave his volcanic energy and his inexhaustible fire to is still being 


In Hungary, I love the way life and poetry, history and poetry, 
time and the poet, intertwine. In other countries this matter is 
discussed more or less naively or one-sidedly. In Hungary every 



poet is committed before he is born. Attila Jozsef, Endre Ady, 
Gyulla Illyes are natural products of a great interchange between 
duty and music, between mother country and darkness, between 
love and pain. 

Gyorgy Somlyo is a poet I have seen grow in confidence and 
strength over a span of twenty years. A poet with fine tones that 
soar like a violin’s, a poet who concerns himself with his own life 
and with other lives, a Hungarian poet down to his bone mar- 
row— Hungarian in his generous readiness to share the reality and 
the dreams of a people. A poet of faithful love and active commit- 
ment, his universality bears the unique stamp of the great poetry 
of his country. 

A poet, young but mature, who deserves to be heard by our 
time. A quiet poetry, transparent and intoxicating like the wine 
from our golden sands. 


Italy’s earth holds the voices of its ancient poets deep within itself, 
where it is purest. Walking on the soil of its fields, passing 
through parks where the water sparkles, going over the sands of 
its small blue ocean, I felt as if I were stepping on diamond-like 
substances, hidden accumulations of crystal, all the luster stored 
up by the centuries. Italy gave European poetry form, sound, 
grace, and rapture; she pulled it out of its early formlessness, out 
of its coarseness dressed up in sackcloth and armor. Italy’s light 
transformed the rags of the medieval minstrels and the iron trap- 
pings of the chansons de geste into an abundant flow of cut 

For poets like us, recent arrivals to culture from countries 
where anthologies begin with poets of 1880, it was amazing to 
find in Italian anthologies poems dating back to the 12 jo’s or 1310 
or 1450, and between these dates the dazzling tercets, the passion- 
ate artistry, the depth and the gem-like surface of Dante, Caval- 
canti, Petrarch, Poliziano. 

These names and these men gave their Florentine light to our 
sweet-toned and powerful Garcilaso de la Vega, to good-natured 
Boscan; they lighted Gongora’s way and shaded Quevedo’s 
melancholy with a thrust of their own darkness; they molded the 
sonnets of England’s Shakespeare and threw light on the essences 

Poetry Is an Occupation 283 

of France, making the roses of Ronsard and du Bellay burst into 

So a poet born in Italy has a difficult road cut out for him, a 
starlit road that demands living up to a brilliant heritage. 

I have known Salvatore Quasimodo for years and I can say that 
his poetry has a conscience that seems phantasmagorical to us 
because of its profound and fiery burden. Quasimodo is a Euro- 
pean who makes the most of his learning, his sense of balance, 
and all the weapons of his intelligence. Yet his position at the 
center of Italian poetry, as the outstanding contemporary poet of 
an intermittent but inexhaustible classicism, has not turned him 
into a warrior locked up in his tower. Quasimodo is a perfect 
example of the universal man, who does not get up in arms to split 
the world into West and East; instead, he considers it his obliga- 
tion, as a man of his time, to knock down cultural barriers and 
show that poetry, truth, freedom, peace, and happiness are gifts 
that belong to all alike. 

The colors and sounds of a world that is sad but orderly are 
combined in Quasimodo. His sadness is not Leopardi’s hopeless 
uncertainty but represents the earth settling down to let things 
grow in the evening; the feeling of reverence given off by that 
time of day when scents, voices, colors, and bells watch over the 
work of the seeds that are deep in the ground. I love the poet’s 
tight language, his classicism and his romanticism, and most of all 
I admire the way he has steeped himself in the tradition of beauty, 
as well as his power to transform everything into a language that 
is true and moving. 

I lift a fragrant crown of Araucanian leaves over the sea and 
the distance and release it into the air so that life and the wind will 
carry it off and lay it on Salvatore Quasimodo’s brow. It is not the 
Apollonian laurel crown we have so often seen in the portraits of 
Francesco Petrarca. It is a crown from our unexplored forests, 
made of leaves that have no name yet, leaves soaked in the dew of 
southern dawns. 


Vallejo was a different kind of man. I shall never forget his great 
yellow head, like those one still sees in old windows in Peru. 



Vallejo was serious and pure in heart. He died in Paris; he was 
killed by the polluted Paris air, by the polluted river from which 
so many dead people have been fished. Vallejo died of hunger and 
asphyxia. If we had brought him back to his Peru, if we had let 
him breathe Peruvian air, maybe he would still be alive and 
writing poetry. I have written two poems, on different occa- 
sions, about my dear friend, my good comrade. I believe they tell 
the story of our friendship, which was never interrupted by time 
or distance. The first, “Oda a Cesar Vallejo” (“Ode to Cesar Val- 
lejo”), is in the first volume of Odas elementales. 

In the last few years, during the small literary war kept alive by 
little soldiers with ferocious teeth, Vallejo, Cesar Vallejo’s ghost, 
Cesar Vallejo’s absence, Cesar Vallejo’s poetry, have been thrown 
into the fight against me and my poetry. This can happen any- 
where. The idea is to wound those who have worked hard, to say, 
“This one is no good; but Vallejo was good.” If Neruda were 
dead, they would throw him in against Vallejo alive. 

The second poem, whose title is a single letter, the letter V, is in 

In seeking the ineffable, the tendril or thread that ties a man to 
his work, I speak of those who had something, or a great deal, to 
do with me. We shared some part of our lives and now I have 
survived them. I have no other way of fathoming what some 
people have taken to calling the mystery of poetry; I would call it 
the clarity of poetry. There must be some connection between a 
man’s hands and his work, between the eyes, the viscera, the 
blood of man and his work. But I have no theory. I don’t go 
around with some dogma under my arm ready to drop it on 
somebody’s head. I am like almost everyone else: everything 
looks bright to me on Monday, everything looks dark on Tues- 
day, and I believe this is going to be a bright-and-dark year. The 
coming years will be a lovely blue. 


I have already mentioned that I met Gabriela Mistral in my home 
town of Temuco. But later she broke with that town forever. 
Gabriela was midway through her difficult, hard-working life. 

Poetry Is an Occupation 285 

and she looked monastic, like the Mother Superior of a strait- 
laced school. 

It was around this time that she wrote her poems of the mother 
and child, poems worked in flawless prose, polished and graceful; 
for her prose was often her most penetrating poetry. She de- 
scribes pregnancy, birth, and growth in these poems, and some 
confused gossip went around in Temuco, some vague word, unin- 
tentionally ugly, coarse talk that hurt her feelings as a maiden 
lady, some rumor spread by those railroad and lumber people 
whom I know so well, rough-mannered and impetuous people 
who call a spade a spade. 

Gabriela felt offended, and was offended until the day of her 

Years later, in the first edition of her great book, she inserted a 
long, useless note protesting the things that had been whispered 
about her in those mountains at the end of the world. 

At the time of her memorable triumph, of her Nobel Prize, she 
had to pass through Temuco on her way to receive the honor. 
The schoolchildren waited for her at the railroad station every 
day. The schoolgirls came, spattered by the rain and quivering 
with copihues. The copihue is the southern flower, the lovely, 
wild corolla of Araucania. A useless wait. Gabriela Mistral man- 
aged to pass through at night, she took a night train so as not to 
accept Temuco’s copihues. 

Well, does this speak ill of Gabriela? It simply says that the 
wounds were still raw, deep within her soul, and would not heal 
easily. It merely shows that love and rancor struggled in the soul 
of this writer of such magnificent poetry, as they do in any 
human being’s soul. 

For me she always had the open smile of a good friend, a smile 
like flour sprinkled on the dark bread of her face. 

But what were the prime elements that went into the oven of 
her work? What was the secret ingredient of her poetry, which 
was always filled with pain? 

I’m not going to investigate this, and I’m sure I would not find 
it out, and if I do find out, I am not going to tell. 

The wild mustard blooms this month of September; the coun- 
tryside is a rippling yellow carpet. Here on the coast the south 



wind has been thrashing about with magnificent fury for the past 
four days. The night is filled with its resonant stir. The ocean is at 
once an open green crystal and a vast whiteness. 

You come here, Gabriela, beloved daughter of these wild mus- 
tard blossoms, these rocks, this giant wind. We all welcome you 
joyously. No one will forget your songs to the hawthorns, to the 
snows of Chile. You are Chilean. You belong to the people. No 
one will forget your lines to the naked feet of our children. No 
one has forgotten your “cursed word.” You are a moving friend of 
peace. For those and other reasons, we love you. 

You come, Gabriela, to the wild mustard plants and the haw- 
thorns of Chile. It is only right that I give you the true welcome 
of the blossoms and the thorns, in keeping with your greatness 
and our unbreakable friendship. September’s doors, made of rock 
and of springtime, swing open for you. Nothing makes my heart 
happier than to see your wide smile enter this sacred land made to 
blossom and sing by the people of Chile. 

It’s my good luck to share with you the essence and the truth 
which, because of our voices and our words, will be honored. 
May your magnificent heart rest, live, fight, sing, and have off- 
spring, in the Andean and ocean solitudes of our country. I 
kiss your noble forehead and render homage to your universal 


The great poet Vicente Huidobro, who looked at everything 
through mischievous eyes, harassed me with numberless pranks, 
sending me childish anonymous letters attacking me, and con- 
stantly accusing me of plagiarism. Huidobro is typical of a long 
line of incurable egocentrics. This way of defending one’s 
ground in the dog-eat-dog life of the times, which conceded no 
importance to the writer, was characteristic of the years immedi- 
ately before the First World War. In America, this aggressive 
narcissism re-echoed D’Annunzio’s arrogant effrontery in Eu- 
rope. This Italian writer, who threw out or violated the canons of 
the petite bourgeoisie, left a volcanic wake of Messianism in 
America. His most scandalous and revolutionary disciple was 
Vargas Vila. 


Poetry Is an Occupation 

It’s difficult for me to speak ill of Huidobro, who honored me, 
throughout his life, with a spectacular ink-slinging war. He 
crowned himself the “God of Poetry” and did not think it was 
right that I, so much younger than he, should be part of his 
Olympus. I never quite understood what that Olympus was all 
about. Huidobro’s group creationized, surrealized, and devoured 
the latest fashions from Paris. I was infinitely inferior, a hopeless 
country boy from the backwoods, a hayseed. 

Huidobro was not content to be the extraordinarily gifted poet 
he really was. He also wanted to be Superman. There was some- 
thing childishly attractive about his pranks. If he were alive 
today, he would have offered his services as the only qualified 
volunteer for the first voyage to the moon. I envision him prov- 
ing to the scientists that his cranium is the only one on earth 
genuinely endowed with the form and flexibility to adapt itself 
to space travel. 

Anecdotes give a good picture of him. For instance, when he 
returned to Chile after the last war, old by then and nearing his 
end, he used to show everyone a rusty telephone and say, “I 
myself took it from Hitler. It was the Fiihrer’s favorite tele- 

One time he was shown a bad academic sculpture, and he said, 
“How awful! It’s even worse than Michelangelo.” 

A wonderful story in which he played the leading role in 1919, 
in Paris, is also worth telling. Huidobro published a pamphlet 
called Finis Britanniae, in which he predicted the immediate col- 
lapse of the British Empire. When no one paid attention to his 
prophecy, the poet decided to disappear. The press took up the 
case: “Chilean diplomat mysteriously kidnapped.” 

A few days later he was found lying outside the door of his 
home. “Some English Boy Scouts kidnapped me,” he declared to 
the police. “They had me tied to a column in a basement and 
forced me to shout a thousand times: ‘Long live the British Em- 
pire!’ ” Then he passed out again. The police, however, examined 
a package he had under his arm. It was a new pair of pajamas 
bought by Huidobro himself three days before in one of the 
better Paris shops. 

The whole story came out. And the poet lost a friend, the 
painter Juan Gris. He had steadfastly believed in the kidnapping 



and had suffered greatly because of the imperialist outrage against 
the Chilean poet. And he never forgave him that lie. 

Huidobro is a crystalline poet. Every facet of his work glitters 
and gives off a contagious joy. Throughout his poetry there is a 
European brilliance, which he crystallizes and radiates in a play of 
light filled with grace and intelligence. 

What surprises me most about his work when I reread it is its 
diaphanous quality. This literary poet, who followed all the 
trends of a complicated era and decided to ignore nature’s solem- 
nity, lets a steady flow of singing water run through his poems, a 
rustle of air and leaves, and a grave humanness that completely 
takes over his later and his last poems. 

From the delightful workmanship of his Frenchified poetry to 
the powerful forces in his most important writing, there is in 
Huidobro a struggle between playfulness and fire, escapism and 
immolation. This struggle makes for quite a show, taking place 
in plain view, with a dazzling clarity, and almost always deliber- 

There is no doubt that a prejudice in favor of seriousness has 
kept us away from his work. We agree that Vicente Huidobro’s 
worst enemy was Vicente Huidobro. Death snuffed out his con- 
tradictory and impossibly playful life. Death brought a curtain 
down over his perishable life but raised another to leave the daz- 
zling aspect of him in full view forever. I have proposed a monu- 
ment for him next to Ruben Dario. But our governments are 
penny pinchers when it comes to putting up statues for artists, 
just as they are free spenders with senseless monuments. 

We couldn’t possibly think of Huidobro as a political figure, in 
spite of his swift incursions into revolutionary territory. He was 
as irresponsible toward ideas as a spoiled brat. But that’s water 
under the bridge, and we ourselves would be irresponsible if we 
set to jabbing pins into him at the risk of damaging his wings. 
Let’s say, instead, that the poems to the October Revolution and 
in memory of Lenin’s death are Huidobro’s fundamental contri- 
bution to the awakening of mankind. 

Huidobro died in 1948, in Cartagena, near Isla Negra, not be- 
fore writing some of the most heartbreaking and profound poems 
I have read in all my life. Shortly before his death, Huidobro 

Poetry Is an Occupation 


visited my home in Isla Negra with my good friend and publisher, 
Gonzalo Losada. Huidobro and I talked together as poets, as Chil- 
eans, as friends. 

literary enemies 

I suppose major and minor conflicts have always existed, and will 
go on existing, between writers in all parts of the world. 

The number of great suicides in the literature of our American 
continent is considerable. In revolutionary Russia, envious per- 
sons drove Mayakovsky into a corner and he finally pulled the 

Petty grudges are exacerbated in Latin America. Envy some- 
times even becomes a profession. It is said that we inherited this 
trait from a colonial Spain that had hit rock bottom. It’s true that 
in Quevedo, Lope de Vega, and Gongora we often come across 
the wounds they inflicted on one another. For all its fabulous 
intellectual brilliance, the Spanish Golden Age was an unhappy 
age, with hunger prowling outside the palaces. 

In the past few years the novel has taken on a new dimension in 
our countries. The names of Garcia Marquez, Juan Rulfo, Vargas 
Llosa, Sabato, Cortazar, Carlos Fuentes, and the Chilean Donoso 
are heard and their writings read everywhere. Some of them were 
christened together as the “boom”; it’s also common talk that 
they are a group who blow each other’s horn. 

I have met most of them and find them remarkably wholesome 
and generous. I understand, more clearly every day, why some of 
them have had to leave their countries to look for a more tranquil 
atmosphere to work in, far from the reach of political animosity 
and ever-increasing envy. Their reasons for voluntary exile are 
irrefutable: their books have become more and more essential to 
the truth and the dream of our Americas. 

I’ve had qualms about mentioning my personal experiences 
with envy in its extremes. I wouldn’t want to seem egocentric, 
excessively taken with myself, but it has been my luck to draw 
the envy of such dogged and colorful persons that the story is 
worth telling. 

These nagging shadows may have made me angry at times. And 
yet they were in fact performing a strange duty, against their 



will— building my reputation— as if they were part of a campaign 
whose sole objective was to sound my name abroad. 

The tragic death of one of these shady adversaries has left a 
kind of empty place in my life. He kept up his private war against 
everything I did for so many years that I miss it now. 

Forty years of literary persecution is something exceptional. I 
get a certain pleasure from looking back at this lonely battle of a 
man against his own shadow, for I myself was never an active 

Twenty-five journals were published by that one editor (it was 
always he) just to destroy me as a writer, to accuse me of all kinds 
of crimes, treacheries, poetic exhaustion, public and secret vices, 
plagiarism, sensational sexual aberrations. Pamphlets also appeared 
and were diligently distributed; newspaper articles that were 
sometimes humorous; and finally a whole book called Neruda y 
yo ( Neruda and /), a fat volume packed with attacks and insults. 

My adversary, a Chilean poet older than I, fanatical and domi- 
neering, was more bluff and bluster than the real thing. This 
type of fiercely egocentric writer is common in the Americas. 
Their sourness and self-sufficiency may take different forms, 
but their D’Annunzian ancestry is tragically patent. 

On inclement mornings in our impoverished latitudes, we 
poets, for the most part in rags and starving, had to step around 
the vomit of drunks while foraging for handouts. In those wretched 
surroundings, oddly enough, literature produced bullies, sur- 
vivors of the picaresque life. A tremendous nihilism, a false 
Nietzschean cynicism made many of our poets hide behind masks 
of delinquency. Quite a few steered their lives down this short cut 
to crime and self-destruction. 

My legendary antagonist sprang from that background. First 
he tried to seduce me, to get me snarled up in the rules of his 
game. This went against the grain of my country-boy, petit- 
bourgeois upbringing. I didn’t have the nerve for it, and I didn’t 
like being an opportunist. Our hero, on the other hand, was an 
expert at taking advantage of any situation. He lived in a world of 
continuous farce, where he cheated himself by playing the bully’s 
role, as profession and protection. 

It’s time to identify this character. His name was Joe Blow. He 
was a strong, hairy man who tried to impress people with both his 

Poetry Is an Occupation 


rhetoric and his physique. One time, when I was only eighteen or 
nineteen years old, he proposed that he and I bring out a literary 
review. The review would be made up of just two sections: one 
where he would declare, in various tones, in prose pieces and 
poems, that I was a powerful and brilliant poet; and another 
where I would proclaim to the four winds that he possessed abso- 
lute intelligence and unlimited talent. Everything would be per- 
fect this way. 

I was very young, but I felt that this would be stretching things 
too far. Yet I had a hard time dissuading him from it. He was 
amazing at publishing reviews, and it was incredible to watch the 
way he scraped up funds to keep up his eternal pamphleteering. 

He traced out a precise line of action in the isolated, wintry 
provinces. He had already made up a long list of doctors, lawyers, 
dentists, agronomists, professors, engineers, top men in public 
office, et cetera. Enveloped in the aureole of his voluminous pub- 
lications, reviews, complete works, epic and lyric pamphlets, our 
personage would arrive on the scene as the bearer of universal 
culture. He would solemnly offer all this to the obscure men he 
visited, and then he deigned to charge them a few miserable 
escudos. Confronted by his high-flown words, the victim gradu- 
ally shrank down to the size of a fly. Blow generally departed 
with the escudos in his pocket and left the fly behind, completely 
snowed under by the greatness of Universal Culture. 

At other times, Joe Blow introduced himself as an expert in 
agrarian advertising and offered to prepare for the back-country 
farmers of the south de luxe monographs on their estates, complete 
with photographs of the owners and the cattle. He would put on 
quite a show, arriving in riding breeches and a fireman’s boots, 
wrapped in a magnificent, exotic houppelande. Mingling flattery 
and veiled threats of unfavorable publicity, our man left the farm 
country with a number of checks. The landowners were stingy 
but realistic and handed him a few bills to get rid of him. 

Outstanding among the distinctive traits of Joe Blow, Nietz- 
schean philosopher and compulsive writer, was his intellectual and 
physical hooliganism. He was a professional bully in Chile’s liter- 
ary life. For many years he had a small court of poor devils who 
danced attendance on him. But life has a habit of implacably 
taking the wind out of the sails of these opportunists. 

My irascible adversary’s tragic end— he committed suicide in 

2 9 2 


his old age— made me hesitate a long time before writing down 
these recollections. I am finally doing it, because I feel that this is 
the right time and place. An immense cordillera of hate runs 
through the Spanish-speaking countries; it eats away at the work 
of writers, with anxious envy. The only way to end this kind 
of destructive viciousness is to publicly show it up when it is 

The sensationalist politico-literary harassment unleashed against 
me and my work by a shady Uruguayan with a Galician last 
name, something like Ribeyro, has been just as insane and grim. 
For several years now, this fellow has been publishing pamphlets, 
in Spanish and French, in which he takes me apart. The fantastic 
thing about this is that his anti-Neruda doings not only over- 
crowd printing paper that he himself pays for, but he has also 
spent money on expensive trips, with my destruction always in 

This strange character traveled to Oxford University when it 
was announced that I would be made doctor honoris causa. The 
Uruguayan versifier arrived with his fantastic charges, all set to 
tear my literary reputation to shreds. I was still wearing my scar- 
let gown, after receiving the honorary distinction, when the 
Oxford dons gleefully told me, over the ritual glass of port, about 
his charges against me. 

Even more unbelievable and daring was this same Uruguayan’s 
trip to Stockholm in 1963. There was a rumor that I would re- 
ceive the Nobel Prize. Well, the fellow visited members of the 
Academy, gave interviews to the press, spoke over the radio to 
make the flat statement that I was one of Trotsky’s killers, hoping 
to have me disqualified for the prize with these threats. 

Time proved that the man always ran into bad luck, and both 
in Oxford and in Stockholm he lamentably lost his money and the 


There is no denying that I have had some good critics. I am not 
referring to well-wishers at literary banquets, and I am not talk- 
ing of the insults I unwillingly provoked. 

I am referring to other people. Of the books written about my 


Poetry Is an Occupation 

poetry, apart from those by enthusiastic young critics, I must 
name the one by Lev Ospovat, the Russian, as among the best. 
This young man went so far as to master Spanish, and saw my 
poetry with an eye on more than just sense and sound: he placed 
it in the perspective of the future, applying to it the northern 
lights of his world. 

Emir Rodriguez Monegal, a critic of the first rank, published a 
book on my poetry and titled it El viajero inmovil ( The Motion- 
less Traveler). You can see at a glance that this scholar is no- 
body’s fool. He perceived at once that I like to travel without 
stepping out of my house or leaving my country or even going 
out of myself. (In a copy I have of that marvelous mystery novel, 
The Moonstone , there is an illustration I like very much. It shows 
an elderly English gentleman wrapped in his houppelande, or 
macfarlane or heavy frock coat or whatever it is, sitting in front 
of the fireplace, a book in one hand, his pipe in the other, and two 
drowsy dogs at his feet. That’s how I would like to remain for- 
ever, before the fire, near the sea, with two dogs, reading the 
books it was such hard work to collect, smoking my pipes.) 

Amado Alonso’s book, Poesta y estilo de Pablo Neruda ( Poetry 
and Style of Pablo Neruda), is highly valued by many people. 
His passionate probing into the shadows, seeking diverse levels 
between words and slippery reality, is of great interest. Further- 
more, Alonso’s study reveals the first serious concern for the 
work of a contemporary poet in our language. And that honors 
me far too much. 

To study and explain my poetry, many critics have come to 
me, among them Amado Alonso himself; he would corner me 
with questions and lead me to the wall of clarity, where I often 
could not follow him, at that time. 

Some believe I am a surrealist poet, for others I am a realist, and 
still others do not believe I am a poet. They are all partly correct 
and partly incorrect. 

Residencia en la tierra was written, or at least begun, like 
Tentativa del hombre infinito, before the heyday of surrealism, 
but we can’t always trust dates. The world’s air transports 
poetry’s molecules, light as pollen or hard as lead, and those seeds 
land in the furrows, or on people’s heads, giving everything an air 
of spring or of battle, producing flowers as well as missiles. 



As for realism, I must say, in my own interest, that I detest 
realism in poetry. Moreover, poetry does not have to be surrealist 
or sub-realist, though it may be anti-realist. And it is anti-realist 
with all reason, with all unreason; that is, with all poetry. 

I love books, the solid substance of the work of poetry, the 
forest of literature, I love all of it, even the spines of books, but 
not the labels of the schools. I want books without schools and 
without classifying, like life. 

I like the “positive hero” in Walt Whitman and Mayakovsky, 
that is, in those who found him without a formula and brought 
him, not without suffering, into the intimacy of our physical life, 
making him share with us our bread and our dream. 

Socialist society has to put an end to the mythology of an age of 
speed, in which poster ads are more valued than the merchandise, 
in which the essentials are tossed aside. But a writer’s deepest need 
is to write good books. I like the “positive hero” found in the 
turbulent trenches of civil wars by the North American Walt 
Whitman and the Soviet Mayakovsky, but there is also room in 
my heart for Lautreamont’s mourning-clad hero, Laforgue’s 
sighing knight errant, and Baudelaire’s negative soldier. Beware of 
separating these halves of the apple of creation, for we may cut 
open our hearts and stop living. Beware! We have to demand of 
the poet that he take his place in the street and in the fight, as well 
as in the light and in the darkness. 

Perhaps the poet has always had the same obligations through- 
out history. It has been poetry’s distinction to go out into the 
street, to take part in this or that combat. The poet didn’t scare off 
when they said he was a rebel. Poetry is rebellion. The poet was 
not offended when he was called subversive. Life transcends all 
structures, and there are new rules of conduct for the soul. The 
seed sprouts anywhere; all ideas are exotic; we wait for enormous 
changes every day; we live through the mutation of human order 
avidly: spring is rebellious. 

I have given all I had. I have thrown my poetry into the ring, 
and I have often bled with it, suffering the agonies and praising 
the moments of glory I have witnessed and lived through. I was 
sometimes misunderstood on one ground or another, and that’s 
not really so bad. 

A critic from Ecuador has said that there are no more than six 
pages of real poetry in my book Las uvas y el vtento. The Ecua- 

Poetry Is an Occupation 295 

dorian happened to read my book without love because it was a 
political book, just as other super-political critics detested my 
Residencia en la tierra because they considered it too inward and 
gloomy. Even such an eminent writer as Juan Marinello con- 
demned it in the past on moral grounds. I believe both are guilty 
of the same mistake, which springs from a common source. 

At times I, too, have spoken harshly of Residencia en la tierra, 
but in doing so, I did not have in mind its poetry but the rigidly 
pessimistic air breathed by my book. I cannot forget that a few 
years ago a boy from Santiago killed himself at the foot of a tree 
and left my book open at the poem “Significa sombras” (“It 
Means Shadows”). 

I believe that both Residencia en la tierra, a dark and gloomy but 
essential book within my work, and Las uvas y el viento, a 
book of wide spaces and abundant light, have a right to exist 
somewhere. And I am not contradicting myself when I say this. 

In fact, I have a soft spot for Las uvas y el viento, perhaps 
because it is my most misunderstood book; or because it was in its 
pages that I set out on my wanderings through the world. It 
contains the dust of roads and the water of rivers; it contains 
creatures, continuities, and places beyond the seas I had not 
known until I discovered them in my many travels. I repeat, it is 
one of the books I love most. 

Of all my books, Estravagario is not the one that sings most but 
the one that has the best leaps. Its leaping poems skip over distinc- 
tion, respect, mutual protection, establishments, and obligations, 
to sponsor reverent irreverence. Because of its disrespect, it’s my 
most personal book. Because of its range, it is one of the most 
important. For my taste, it’s a terrific book, with the tang of salt 
that the truth always has. 

In Odas elementales I decided to deal with things from their 
beginnings, starting with the primary state, from birth onward. I 
wanted to describe many things that had been sung and said over 
and over again. My intention was to start like the boy chewing on 
his pencil, setting to work on his composition assignment about 
the sun, the blackboard, the clock, or the family. Nothing was to 
be omitted from my field of action; walking or flying, I had to 
touch on everything, expressing myself as clearly and freshly as 

An Uruguayan critic was shocked because I compared some 



stones to small ducks. He had established that small ducks, and 
some other kinds of small animals, are not material for poetry. 
Literary refinement has come to this kind of flippancy. They are 
trying to force creative artists to deal only with sublime themes. 
But they are wrong. We’ll even make poetry from those things 
most scorned by the arbiters of good taste. 

The bourgeoisie demands a poetry that is more and more iso- 
lated from reality. The poet who knows how to call a spade a 
spade is dangerous to a capitalism on its last legs. It is more con- 
venient for the poet to believe himself “a small god,” as Vicente 
Huidobro said. This belief, this stand, does not upset the ruling 
classes. The poet basks in his own divine isolation, and there is no 
need to bribe or crush him. He has bribed himself by condemning 
himself to his heaven. Meanwhile, the earth trembles in his path, 
in his daz 7 . 1 ing light. 

Our Latin American countries have millions of illiterates; this 
cultural lag survives as a heritage and a privilege of feudalism. In 
the face of this stumbling block of seventy million illiterates, we 
can say that our readers have not yet been born. We must speed 
up the birth, so that we and all poets will be read. We must open 
America’s matrix to bring out her glorious light. 

Literary critics are often happy to render service to the notions 
of feudal promoters. In 1961, for example, three of my books 
appeared: Cancion de gesta, Las piedras de Chile, and Cantos 
ceremoniales. Critics in my country did not even mention these 
titles during the entire year. 

When my poem Alturas de Macchu Picchu was first published, 
no one in Chile dared mention it, either. Its publisher went to the 
offices of Chile’s bulkiest newspaper, El Mercurio, which has been 
in existence almost a hundred and fifty years; he had with him a 
paid announcement of the book’s publication. They accepted it 
on condition that my name be removed. 

“But Neruda is the author,” Neira protested. 

“That doesn’t matter,” they said. 

Alturas de Macchu Picchu had to appear as an anonymous 
poem in the announcement. What good had the newspaper’s hun- 
dred and fifty years of life been to it? In all that time, it had not 
learned to respect the truth, or the facts, or poetry. 

Poetry Is an Occupation 


Sometimes the negative passions turned against me are not 
merely a hitter reflex of the class struggle, but obey other causes. 
I have more than forty years of work and several literary prizes to 
my credit, and my books have been published in the most surpris- 
ing languages, yet not a single day goes by that I do not receive a 
jab or a pommeling from the envious elements around me. My 
house is a case in point. I bought this house in Isla Negra, in a 
deserted spot, when there was no drinking water or electricity 
here. With the proceeds from my books, I repaired and refur- 
bished it; I bought wooden statues now dear to me, old ships’ 
figureheads that found shelter and rest in my home after long 

But there are people who can’t bear the thought that a poet has 
achieved, as the fruit of widely published work, the material 
comfort all writers, musicians, and painters deserve. Reactionary 
hacks, who are behind the times and are constantly demanding 
honors for Goethe, deny today’s poets the right to live. For in- 
stance, my owning an automobile drives them crazy. According 
to them, the automobile is the exclusive right of businessmen, 
speculators, brothel managers, usurers, and crooks. 

To gall them even more. I’ll leave my house in Isla Negra to the 
people. Someday it will be used for union meetings and as a place 
where miners and peasants can go to get some rest. That will be 
my poetry’s revenge. 


A newspaperman asks me: “How do you see the world during 
this year that is just beginning? ” 

I answer: “At this precise moment, at 9: 20 a.m. on January 5, 
to me the whole world looks absolutely rosy and blue.” 

This has no literary, political, or personal implications. This 
means that from my window my eyes are struck with wonder by 
huge beds of pink flowers, and that, farther out, the Pacific and 
the sky come together in a blue embrace. 

But I realize, and we know it, that there are other colors in the 
landscape of the world. Who can forget the color of all the blood 
senselessly spilled in Vietnam every day? Who can forget the 
color of the villages leveled with napalm? 



I answer another of the journalist’s questions. As in other years, 
during these 365 days I’ll publish a new book, I am sure of it. I 
caress it, I rough it up, I write it every day. 

“What is it about?” 

What can I answer? My books are always about the same 
thing; I always write the same book. I hope my friends will for- 
give me, because, on this new occasion and in this new year filled 
with new days, I have nothing to offer them except my poems, 
the same new poems. 

The year just ended brought victories to all of us on earth: 
victories out in space and along its routes. During the year, all 
men wanted to fly. We have all traveled like cosmonauts in our 
dreams. The conquest of space belongs to all of us, whether it was 
North Americans or Soviets who were the first to draw a nimbus 
around the moon and eat the first New Year’s grapes on the moon. 

To us poets should fall the greater portion of the gifts dis- 
covered. From Jules Verne, who gave man’s dream of space its 
first flying machine in a book, to Jules Laforgue, Heinrich Heine, 
and Jose Asuncion Silva (without forgetting Baudelaire, who dis- 
covered its evil spell), the pale planet was investigated, sung, and 
put into print by us poets, before anyone else. 

The years go by. You wear out, thrive, suffer, and enjoy life. 
The years take life away or restore it to you. Farewells become 
more frequent; friends enter or get out of jail; they go to Europe 
and come back, or simply die. 

Those you lose when you are far away from the place where 
they die seem to die less; they go on living in you just as they 
were. A poet who outlives his friends tends to fill in his work 
with an anthology of mourning poems. I did not go on with mine, 
I was afraid that human grief in the face of death might become 
monotonous. You don’t want to turn into a register of dead 
people, even if they are very dear to you. In 1928 in Ceylon, 
when I wrote “Ausencia de Joaquin” (“Absence of Joaquin”) on 
the death of my friend Joaquin Cifuentes Sepulveda, the poet, and 
later in 1931 in Barcelona, when I wrote “Alberto Rojas Gimenez 
viene volando,” I thought no one else would die on me. Many 
have. Nearby, in the Argentine hills of Cordoba, lies buried my 
dearest Argentine friend, Rodolfo Araoz Alfaro, who left our 
Chilean Margarita Aguirre a widow. 

Poetry Is an Occupation 


In this year that has just ended, the wind carried off the fragile 
frame of Ilya Ehrenburg, my very dear friend, heroic defender of 
the truth, a titan at crushing lies. And this same year, in Moscow, 
they buried the poet Ovadi Savich, who translated Gabriela Mis- 
tral’s poetry as well as mine and did it not only faithfully and 
beautifully but with shining love. The same wind took away my 
brother poets Nazim Hikmet and Semyon Kirsanov. And others. 

Che Guevara’s official assassination, in poor Bolivia, was a bitter 
blow. The telegram announcing his death ran through the world 
like a cold shiver of reverence. Millions of elegies tried to join in 
tribute to his heroic and tragic life. Poems, many of which did not 
rise to the occasion, came pouring out all over the world. I re- 
ceived a telegram from Cuba, from a literary colonel, asking me 
for mine. I have not written it yet. I believe that such an elegy 
must contain not only immediate protest but also the profound 
echo of the painful story. I shall ponder over that poem until it 
ripens in my mind and in my blood. 

I am deeply touched that I am the only poet quoted by the 
great guerrilla leader in his diary. I remember that Che told me 
once, in front of Sergeant Retamar, that he often read my Canto 
general to the pioneering, humble, glorious bearded guerrillas in 
the Sierra Maestra. In his diary, where it stares out like a premoni- 
tion, he copied out a line from my “Canto para Bolivar” (“Song 
for Bolivar”): “Your small dead body like a brave captain’s . . 


There’s a long story behind my Nobel Prize. For many years my 
name was always mentioned as a candidate but nothing happened. 

In 1963, things got serious. The radios said repeatedly that my 
name was very strong in the voting in Stockholm and I would 
probably be the winner of the Nobel Prize. So Matilde and I put 
into effect home-defense plan number 3. We laid in supplies of 
food and red wine and hung a huge padlock on the old gate in Isla 
Negra. I threw in a few mysteries by Simenon, expecting to be 
under siege for some time. 

The newsmen got there fast, but we kept them at bay. They 
could not get past the gate secured with the huge bronze padlock, 
which was as beautiful as it was powerful. They prowled behind 
the outer wall like tigers. What were they trying to do, anyway? 



What could I say about a debate in which only the members of 
the Swedish Academy on the other side of the world were taking 
part? Still, the journalists didn’t hide their intentions of squeezing 
blood from a turnip. 

Spring had come late to the South Pacific coast. Those solitary 
days helped me commune with the spring season by the sea, 
which, though late, had dressed up for its solitary festivities. In 
summer not a single drop of rain falls; the earth is marly, rough, 
rocky; not one green blade is to be seen. In winter, the sea wind 
unleashes fury, salt, foam from enormous waves, and then nature 
looks oppressed, a victim of these terrible forces. 

Spring starts off with a widespread yellow operation. Every- 
thing is covered with innumerable tiny golden flowers. This tiny, 
powerful crop spreads over hillsides, circles rocks, presses on 
toward the sea, and springs up in the middle of our everyday 
paths, as if it were throwing us a challenge, proving to us that it is 
there. Those flowers had to endure an invisible life such a long 
time, the desolate denial of the barren earth kept them under such 
a long time, that they can’t seem to find enough room for their 
yellow abundance now. 

Then the tiny pale flowers bum out and everything is covered 
by an intense violet bloom. Spring has a change of heart from 
yellow to blue, and then, again, to red. How did the tiny, name- 
less, innumerable corollas replace one another? The wind shook 
out one color one day and another color the next day, as if 
spring’s national colors kept changing in the lonely hills, and vari- 
ous republics took turns sporting their invading banners. 

At this time of year the cactus flowers on the coast. Far from 
this region, on the ridges of the Andean cordillera, the cacti loom 
like giants, striated and thorny, like enemy columns. The cacti 
along the coast, on the other hand, are small and round. I have 
seen them crowned with twenty scarlet buds, as if some handTiad 
left drops of blood there, a passionate tribute. Then they burst 
open. Facing the ocean’s huge whitecaps are thousands of cacti lit 
up by their full-blown flowers. 

The old century plant at home drew its suicidal bloom from 
deep within itself. This plant, which is blue and yellow, gigantic 
and fleshy, has lasted more than ten years beside my door, shoot- 
ing up until it was taller than I. And now it is flowering only to 
die. It built up a powerful green spear that rose to a height of 

3 °« 

Poetry Is an Occupation 

seven meters, interrupted by a dry inflorescence, lightly covered 
by a fine, gold dust. Then all the colossal leaves of Agave ameri- 
cana plummet down and die. 

Here, next to the tall dying flower, another titanic blossom is 
being bom. No one outside my country will know it; it only 
grows on these Antarctic shores. It is called chahual ( Puya 
chilensis). This ancestral plant was worshipped by the Arauca- 
nians. The ancient Arauco no longer exists. Blood, death, time, 
and later the epic songs of Alonso de Ercilla, closed the ancient 
history of a tribe made of clay, rudely awakened from a geologi- 
cal dream to defend its invaded country. When I see its flowers 
come up again, over centuries of obscure dead, over layers of 
bloodstained forgetfulness, I believe that the earth’s past blooms 
in spite of what we are, in spite of what we have become. Only 
the earth goes on being, preserving its own nature. 

But I forgot to describe this flower. 

It’s a Bromeliacea with sharp, saw-toothed leaves. It erupts by 
the roadsides like green fire, arraying its panoply of mysterious 
emerald swords. And suddenly one colossal flower, a cluster, is 
bom at its waist, an immense green rose as tall as a man. This sole 
flower, made up of tinier flowers that assemble into a single green 
cathedral crowned with gold pollen, gleams in the light from the 
sea. It is the only green flower of its huge size I have ever seen, a 
solitary monument to the waves. 

Peasants and fishermen in my country forgot the names of the 
small plants long ago, and the small flowers have no names now. 
They forgot them little by little, and the flowers eventually lost 
their pride. They became all mixed up and obscure, like stones the 
rivers drag down from the Andean snow to unfrequented parts of 
the coast. Peasants and fishermen, miners and smugglers, remained 
true to their own rough life, to continuous death and the everlast- 
ing resurrection of their duties, their defeats. To be a hero in 
undiscovered territories is to be obscure; these territories and their 
songs are lit only by the most anonymous blood and by flowers 
whose name nobody knows. 

Among these flowers there is one that has invaded my whole 
house. It’s a blue flower with a long, proud, lustrous, and tough 
stem. At its tip, swarms of tiny infra-blue, ultra-blue flowers 
sway. I don’t know if all human beings have the gift of seeing the 
sublimest blue. Is it revealed to a select few? Does it remain 



hidden, invisible to others? Has some blue god denied them its 
contemplation? Or is it only my own joy, nursed by solitude and 
convened into pride, gloating because it has found this blue, this 
blue wave, this blue star in riotous spring? 

Last, I shall mention the docas. I don’t know if these plants exist 
anywhere else; multiplied by the million, they drag their triangu- 
lar fingers over the sand. Spring filled those green hands with rare 
crimson jewels. The docas have a Greek name: Aizoaceae. Isla 
Negra’s splendor on these late-spring days is the Aizoaceae that 
spill out like an invasion from the sea, like the emanation of the 
sea’s green grotto, like the juice from the purple clusters stored up 
by Neptune far off in his wine cellar. 

The radio has just announced that a good Greek poet has re- 
ceived the famed prize. The journalists have departed. Matilde 
and I are finally left in peace. We solemnly withdraw the huge 
padlock from the old gate, so that anyone, as usual, may come 
calling at my door unannounced. Like spring. 

In the afternoon the Swedish ambassador and his wife came to 
see me. They brought me a basket filled with bottles and an assort- 
ment of delicacies. They had prepared it to celebrate the Nobel 
Prize which they had considered a sure thing for me. We didn’t 
really feel sad about it and drank a toast to Seferis, the Greek poet 
who had won. As he was leaving, the ambassador took me aside 
and said, “I’m sure the press will interview me, and I don’t know 
anything about him. Can you tell me who Seferis is?” 

“I don’t know who he is either,” I answered in all honesty. 

Every writer on this planet earth would really like to get the 
Nobel Prize sometime, whether he admits it or not. 

In Latin America particularly, the various countries have their 
candidates, plan their campaigns, draw up their strategy. They 
have lost the prize for some writers who should have had it. 
Romulo Gallegos is a case in point. His work is copious and 
dignified. But Venezuela is an oil country— in other words, a 
country with money— and it was decided to use this to get him 
the prize. An ambassador to Sweden was appointed whose ulti- 
mate goal was to obtain the honor for Gallegos. He was free 
with dinner invitations; he had the works of the members 
of the Swedish Academy published in Spanish by printing houses 
in Stockholm. All this must have appeared excessive to these 


Foetry Is an Occupation 

sensitive and reserved men. Romulo Gallegos never found out 
that the exaggerated efficiency of a Venezuelan ambassador may 
have deprived him of a literary honor he deserved so well. 

In Paris I was once told a sad story edged with cruel humor. 
This time it was about Paul Valery. His name was bandied about 
in France, even in print, as the strongest candidate for the Nobel 
Prize that year. Trying to ease the nervous tension produced by 
the imminent news, on the morning the verdict was under debate 
in Stockholm, Valery left his country house very early, with his 
cane and his dog. 

He returned from his outing at noon, for lunch. The minute he 
opened the door, he asked his secretary: “Were there any phone 

“Yes, sir. You had a call from Stockholm a few minutes ago.” 

“What did they have to say?” he asked, obviously moved. 

“It was a Swedish newspaperwoman who wanted to know 
your views on the women’s suffragette movement.” 

Valery himself used to tell this anecdote with some irony. And 
the truth is that this great poet, so impeccable a writer, never 
received the celebrated prize. 

As for me, no one can say I wasn’t very careful. In a book 
by a Chilean scholar praising Gabriela Mistral, I had read about 
the letters my austere countrywoman sent out in many direc- 
tions, without compromising her austerity but driven by her 
natural desire to improve her chances for the prize. This made me 
more reticent. I no sooner learned that my name was being men- 
tioned as a candidate (and I’ve lost track of how many times it 
was mentioned) than I made up my mind not to return to Sweden, 
a country I had been attracted to since boyhood, when Tomas 
Lago and I set ourselves up as true disciples of an excommunicated 
drunken Protestant minister by the name of Gosta Berling. 

Besides, I was tired of being mentioned every year but never 
getting anywhere. It grated on me to see my name listed in the 
annual competition, as if I were a race horse. On the other hand, 
some literary and popular Chilean writers felt slighted by the 
Swedish Academy’s indifference to them. It was a situation border- 
ing dangerously on the ridiculous. 

At last, as everyone knows, I was awarded the Nobel Prize. In 
197 1 I was in Paris, where I had just arrived to take up my post as 



Chilean ambassador, when my name began to appear in the news 
once again. Matilde and I frowned. We were used to the annual 
disappointment and had grown hard-skinned. One night in Oc- 
tober of that year Jorge Edwards, our Embassy’s counselor and a 
writer as well, came into the dining room of my home. Thrifty 
by nature, he offered to make a very simple bet with me. If I was 
given the Nobel Prize that year, I would treat him and his wife to 
dinner in the best restaurant in Paris. If it was not given to me, 
he would treat Matilde and me. 

“Agreed,” I said. “We’ll have a splendid dinner at your ex- 

A part of the secret reason for Jorge Edwards’s risky bet began 
to leak out on the following day. I found out that a friend of his 
had called him from Stockholm. A writer and a journalist, she had 
told him that this time Pablo Neruda had every chance of 
winning the Nobel Prize. 

The newsmen began to call long-distance. From Buenos Aires, 
from Mexico, and, above all, from Spain. There it was a foregone 
conclusion. Naturally, I refused to make any statement, but my 
doubts began to surface once more. 

That evening Artur Lundkvist, my only Swedish friend who 
was a writer, came to see me. Lundkvist had been in the Academy 
for three or four years. He had come from Sweden to visit the 
South of France. After dinner I told him the fix I was in, having 
to reply to the long-distance questions of newsmen who had 
already conceded me the prize. 

“I want to ask you one favor, Artur,” I said. “If it is true, I 
would really like to know before it comes out in the papers. I 
want to be the first to tell Salvador Allende, with whom I have 
shared so many battles. It would make him very happy to have 
the news first.” 

Lundkvist, Academician and poet, looked at me with his Swed- 
ish eyes, very seriously. “I can’t tell you a thing. If there is any- 
thing to it, the King of Sweden will let you know by telegram, or 
else the Swedish ambassador in Paris will.” 

This was on the nineteenth or twentieth of October. On the 
morning of the twenty-first, the anterooms at the Embassy 
started to fill up with newsmen. Television crews from Sweden, 
Germany, France, and Latin America showed an impatience 

Poetry Is an Occupation 


at my silence— due solely to lack of information— that threatened 
to turn into mutiny. At eleven-thirty the Swedish ambassador 
called and asked me if I would receive him, without saying what 
about. This did nothing to slacken the tension, since the interview 
would not take place until two hours later. The telephone kept on 
shrilling hysterically. 

Then one of the Paris radio stations released a flash, a last- 
minute news bulletin, announcing that the Nobel Prize for 1971 
had been awarded to the “poete chilien Pablo Neruda.” I immedi- 
ately went down to face the noisy assemblage from the news 
media. Fortunately, at this moment my old friends Jean Marcenac 
and Aragon appeared. Marcenac, a fine poet and a brother to me 
in France, let out shouts of joy. For his part, Aragon seemed 
happier at the news than I. Both helped me through the hard test 
of parrying the journalists. 

I was just getting over an operation. Anemic and shaky on my 
legs, I had little desire to move about. Friends came to dine with 
me that evening. Matta, from Italy; Garcia Marquez, from Barce- 
lona; Siqueiros, from Mexico; Miguel Otero Silva, from Caracas; 
Arturo Camacho Ramirez, from Paris itself; Cortazar, from his 
hide-out. Carlos Vasallo, Chilean, traveled from Rome to go with 
me to Stockholm. 

The telegrams grew into such mountains that I still have not 
been able to read or answer all of them. One of the countless 
letters I received was odd and a bit menacing. It was written from 
Holland by a husky black man; this was obvious from the news- 
paper clipping he sent along. “I represent,” the letter said, more or 
less, “the anti-colonialist movement in Georgetown, British 
Guiana. I have requested a pass to attend the Nobel Prize cere- 
mony in Stockholm. I was informed at the Swedish Embassy that 
evening dress is a requirement, absolutely necessary for this occa- 
sion. I have no money to buy a tail coat and I shall never wear a 
rented one, it would be humiliating for a free man from America 
to put on used clothing. I am therefore informing you that, with 
the little money I can scrape together, I shall travel to Stockholm 
to hold a press conference to denounce the imperialist and anti- 
popular character of this ceremony, even if it is being held to 
honor the most anti-imperialist and most popular of the world’s 



In November, Matilde and I traveled to Stockholm. A few old 
friends went along with us. We were given rooms in the luxuri- 
ous Grand Hotel and from there we could see the beautiful cold 
city, the Royal Palace across from our windows. Also staying at 
the hotel were the other laureates of that year, in physics, chemis- 
try, medicine, etc., and several celebrities, some articulate and very 
fine-mannered, others as simple and rustic as mechanics whom 
chance had brought out of their workshops. Willy Brandt, the 
German, was not staying at the hotel; he would receive his Nobel 
Peace Prize in Norway. It was a pity, because, of all the award 
winners, he was the one I would have been most interested in 
meeting and talking to. I only managed to see him later at the 
receptions, where we were always separated by three or four 

We had to have a practice session for the grand ceremony, and 
Swedish protocol actually made us stage it where it would be 
held. It was really comical to see such serious-looking people get 
out of bed and leave their hotel at a specific hour, go punctually 
to an empty building, climb several flights of stairs without miss- 
ing a step, march left or right in strict order, sit on the stage in the 
same armchairs we would occupy on the day of the ceremony. 
All this, facing television cameras, and in an enormous empty hall 
where the seats of honor for the King and the Royal Family stood 
out, also forlornly empty. I have never been able to understand 
just what whim would make Swedish television film that rehearsal 
performed by such terrible actors. 

The day the prize was to be awarded started off with the St. 
Lucia festivities. I was awakened by voices chanting sweetly in 
the hotel corridors. Then blond Scandinavian maidens crowned 
with flowers, their faces lit by burning candles, burst into my 
room. They brought me breakfast as well as a gift, a beautiful 
long painting of the sea. 

A little later, something happened that stirred up the Stock- 
holm police force. A letter for me was delivered at the hotel 
reception desk. It bore the signature of the wild anti-colonialist 
from Georgetown, British Guiana. “I have just arrived in Stock- 
holm,” it read. His attempt to call a press conference had failed, 

Poetry Is an Occupation 


but as a revolutionary man of action, he was taking certain 
steps. It couldn’t be possible that Pablo Neruda, the poet of 
the humiliated and the oppressed, would receive the Nobel 
Prize in tails. Consequently, he had bought a pair of green scissors 
which he would use to snip off the “tails of your cut-away, and 
any other appendages . . “So I am doing my duty and warn- 
ing you. When you see a black man stand up at the rear of the 
hall, equipped with a huge pair of green scissors, you can guess 
exactly what is going to happen to you.” 

I handed the strange letter to the young diplomat assigned to 
me by Swedish protocol, who followed me around on all my 
errands. I told him, with a smile, that I had received another letter 
in Paris from the same crank and that I didn’t think we should 
worry about him. The young Swede disagreed. “With all the 
dissenters around at this time, anything can happen. It is my 
duty to warn the Stockholm police,” he said and sped off to 
carry out what he considered his duty. 

I should point out that Miguel Otero Silva was among those 
who had gone with me to Stockholm; an important novelist and a 
brilliant poet, he is not only a perfect representative of the Ameri- 
can conscience but also an incomparable friend. There were just a 
few hours left before the ceremony. During lunch I mentioned 
that the Swedes had taken the incident of the letter of protest 
quite seriously. 

Otero Silva, who was lunching with us, slapped himself on the 
forehead. “Why, I wrote that letter with my own hand; I was 
just pulling your leg, Pablo. What are we going to do now, with 
the police looking for a writer who doesn’t exist?” 

“You’ll be taken off to jail. For your practical joke about the 
wild man from the Caribbean,” I said to him, “you’ll be punished 
instead of the man from Georgetown.” 

Just then, my young Swedish aide, back from warning the 
authorities, joined us at the table. I told him what had happened. 
“It was a practical joke. Its author is having lunch with us right 

He dashed out again. The police had already gone to all the 
hotels in Stockholm, looking for a black from Georgetown, or 
some such place. And they didn’t relax their precautions. As we 
went in to the ceremony, and as we came out of the celebration 



ball, Matildc and I noticed that, instead of the usual ushers, four 
or five hefty young fellows rushed forward to take care of us— 
solid, yellow-haired, scissors-proof bodyguards. 

The Nobel Prize ritual had an immense, disciplined, and calm 
audience, which applauded politely, in the right places. The aged 
monarch shook hands with each of us; gave us the diploma, the 
medal, and the check; and we returned to our seats on the stage, 
which was no longer squalid, as it had been during the rehearsal, 
but covered now with flowers and occupied chairs. They say (or 
said it to Matilde to impress her) that the King spent more time 
with me than with the other laureates and pressed my hand 
longer, treating me with obvious friendliness. Perhaps it was a 
reminiscence of the ancient kindliness of the palace toward the 
troubadours. In any case, no other king has shaken my hand, for a 
long or even a brief moment. 

No doubt, that ceremony, carried out with such strict proto- 
col, had the proper solemnity. Perhaps the solemnity given to 
important occasions will always exist in the world. Human beings 
seem to need it. But I found a charming similarity between the 
parade of eminent laureates and the handing out of school prizes 
in any small country town. 


I was coming from Puerto Ibanez, still awed by the great General 
Carrera Lake, awed by its metallic waters, a paroxysm of nature 
comparable only to the turquoise-blue sea of Varadero in Cuba, 
or to our own Petrohue. And then the savage falls of the Ibanez 
River, with the full effect of their terrifying grandeur. I was also 
shaken by the isolation and the poverty of the people in the 
neighboring towns, near the gigantic source of energy but with- 
out electricity, living among countless sheep, but dressed in cheap 
rags. At last I came to Chile Chico. 

There at the end of the day the wide twilight was waiting for 
me. The everlasting wind was cutting up the clouds like quartz. 
Rivers of light isolated one huge block the wind was holding up 
between the earth and the sky. 

Cattle lands and sown fields struggling under polar pressure 

Foetry Is an Occupation 


from the wind. The earth rose all around, turning into the hard 
rock towers of Roca Castillo, sharpened points, Gothic spires, 
nature’s granite battlements. The irregular Aysen mountains, 
round as spheres, tall and flat as tables, intensified the rectangles 
and triangles of snow. 

And the sky was working on its twilight with sheer silks and 
metals: a yellowness shimmered in the sky, like an immense bird 
suspended by pure space. Everything went through abrupt muta- 
tions, changing into a whale’s mouth, a fiery leopard, glowing 
abstract forms. 

I felt the immensity spreading out in formation overhead, pick- 
ing me to witness the dazzling Aysen range with its cluster of 
hills, waterfalls, millions of dead and blighted trees accusing their 
ancient killers with the silence of a world about to be bom, for 
which everything was in readiness: the ceremonies of the sky and 
the earth. But there was something missing— shelter, collective 
organization, houses, man. Those who live in such difficult soli- 
tudes need a common bond as vast as the huge spaces around 

I left as the twilight was going dim and the night was coming 
on, overpowering, blue. 


In the southern part of the Latin American continent, September 
is a wide-open, flowering month. This month is also decked in 

At the beginning of the last century, in 1810, in the month of 
September, insurrections against Spanish dominion broke out or 
consolidated in many territories of South America. In September 
we South Americans commemorate the emancipation, honor our 
heroes, and welcome spring, spreading out so far and wide that it 
reaches across the Strait of Magellan to blossom as far down as 
southern Patagonia and Cape Horn. 

The regular chain of revolutions that sprouted from Mexico to 
Argentina and Chile was very important for the world. 

The leaders were dissimilar. Bolivar, warrior and courtier, 
gifted with the brilliance of a prophet; San Martin, inspired orga- 
nizer of an army that crossed the tallest and most hostile mountain 



ranges of the planet to fight the decisive battles of Chile’s libera- 
tion; Jose Miguel Carrera and Bernardo O’ Higgins, who estab- 
lished the first Chilean armies as well as the first printing presses 
and the first laws against slavery, abolished in Chile many years 
before it was abolished in the United States. 

Like Bolivar and some of the other liberators, Jose Miguel Car- 
rera came from the aristocratic creole class. The interests of this 
class clashed sharply with those of the Spaniards in America. The 
people were not an organized entity but an enormous mass of 
bondsmen at the service of Spanish rule. Men like Bolivar and 
Carrera, readers of the Encyclopedists, students from the military 
academies in Spain, had to break through walls of isolation and 
ignorance to stir up a national spirit. 

Carrera’s life was brief and resplendent as lightning. El husar 
desdichado ( The Unfortunate Hussar) is the title I gave to a book 
about him I put together and published some years ago. His fasci- 
nating personality drew antagonisms down on his head the way a 
lightning rod draws sparks during a storm. He was finally shot in 
Mendoza by the rulers of the newly declared Argentine Republic. 
His desperate desire to overthrow the Spanish yoke had put him 
at the head of the wild Indians of the Argentine pampas. He 
besieged Buenos Aires and came very close to taking it. But he 
really wanted to free Chile and his heart was so set on it that he 
started premature civil and guerrilla wars that led him to his death. 
During those turbulent years, the revolution devoured one of its 
most brilliant and courageous sons. History has pinned the blame 
for this bloody deed on O’Higgins and San Martin. However, the 
history of the month of September, month of spring and banners, 
covers with its wings the memory of the three heroes of the 
combats waged in the vast setting of the wide pampas and the 
eternal snows. 

O’Higgins, another of Chile’s liberators, was a man of humble 
beginnings. His would have been an obscure, peaceful life if he 
had not met in London, when he was only seventeen, an old 
revolutionary who was making the rounds of all the courts of 
Europe, seeking assistance for the cause of American liberation. 
His name was Don Francisco de Miranda and he had the power- 
ful affection of Empress Catherine of Russia, one of many friends. 
He arrived in Paris with a Russian passport, and the doors of all 
the chancelleries of Europe were open to him. 

Poetry Is an Occupation 3 1 1 

It’s a romantic story, with such a “period” air that it sounds like 
an opera. O’Higgins was the natural son of a Spanish viceroy, a 
soldier of fortune of Irish descent, who had been governor of 
Chile. Miranda made it a point to look into O’Higgins’s family 
background when he realized that the young man could be very 
useful to the insurrection of Spain’s American colonies. Someone 
has told the story of the exact moment when Miranda told the 
young O’Higgins the secret of his birth and plunged him into 
insurgent action. The young revolutionary fell to his knees and, 
throwing his arms around Miranda, sobbed out the promise to 
leave immediately for his country, Chile, and lead the rebellions 
against Spanish power there. O’Higgins was the one who won the 
final battles against colonial rule and is considered the founder 
of our republic. 

Miranda was taken prisoner by the Spaniards and died in the 
horrible La Carraca prison, in Cadiz. The body of this former 
general of the French Revolution and teacher of revolutionaries 
was bundled into a sack and thrown into the sea from the top of 
the prison wall. 

Exiled by his countrymen, San Martin died a lonely old man in 
Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. 

O’Higgins, Chile’s liberator, died in Peru, far from everything 
he loved, banished by the creole landowning class, which quickly 
took over the revolution. 

On my way through Lima a short time ago, in Peru’s Museum 
of History, I discovered some paintings done by General O’Hig- 
gins in his final years. All those paintings have Chile as their 
theme. He painted spring in Chile, the leaves and the flowers in 

This September I have sat down to remember the names, the 
events, the loves, and the sorrows of that age of insurrections. A 
century later the peoples are stirring again, and a turbulent cur- 
rent of wind and fury is waving the flags. Everything has 
changed since those far-off years, but history goes on its way and 
a new spring fills out the interminable spaces of our America. 


No Communist leader in America has had such a hazardous and 
extraordinary life as Luis Carlos Prestes, a Brazilian political and 


3* 2 

military hero. His true life and his legend long ago hurdled ideo- 
logical barriers, and he has become a living embodiment of the 
heroes of former times. And so, when I received an invitation in 
Isla Negra to visit Brazil and meet Prestes, I promptly accepted. 
Besides, I learned that no other foreigner had been invited, and 
this flattered me. I felt that I was somehow attending a resurrec- 
tion from the dead. 

Prestes had just been freed after more than ten years of deten- 
tion. These long confinements are nothing exceptional in the 
“free world.” My friend Nazim Hikmet, the poet, spent thirteen 
or fourteen years in a Turkish prison. As I write these memoirs, 
six or seven Communists have been entombed in Paraguay for 
twelve years, with no communication whatever with the outside 
world. Prestes’s German-born wife was turned over to the Gestapo 
by the Brazilian dictatorship. The Nazis chained her up aboard the 
ship taking her to martyrdom. She gave birth to a girl, who lives 
with her father today, rescued from the teeth of the Gestapo by 
Dona Leocadia Prestes, the leader’s indefatigable mother. Then, 
after giving birth in a prison yard, Luis Carlos Prestes’s wife was I 
beheaded by the Nazis. All those martyred lives would guarantee 
that Prestes was never forgotten during his long years in prison. 

I was in Mexico when his mother died. She had traveled all over 
the world, demanding her son’s freedom. General Lazaro Car- 
denas, ex-President of the Mexican Republic, telegraphed the 
Brazilian dictator, requesting a few days of freedom for Prestes, '! 
to attend his mother’s funeral. In his message, President Cardenas 
personally guaranteed Prestes’s return to jail. Getulio Vargas’s 
answer was negative. 

I shared the world’s indignation and wrote an elegy to Dona 
Leocadia, bringing in the memory of her absent son and vehe- 
mently denouncing the tyrant. I read it at the tomb of the noble 
lady who had knocked in vain at the doors of the world for her 
son’s liberation. My poem began on a sober note: 

Senora, you have made our America greater. j 

Y on gave it a pure river whose waters flow abundantly , | 

a giant tree with infinite roots, <j 

a son worthy of his deeply rich country. | 


As the poem progressed, however, it turned on the Brazilian j 
despot more and more violently. I 

Poetry Is an Occupation 


I read it everywhere, and it was reproduced in leaflets and 
postcards that reached all parts of the continent. 

During a stopover in Panama once, 1 included it in one of my 
readings, after I had finished reciting my love poems. The hall was 
iammed and the heat of the Isthmus had me perspiring. I had just 
started to read my invectives against Vargas when I felt my 
throat drying up. I broke off and reached for a glass I had near 
me. At that moment, I saw someone dressed in white hurrying 
toward the rostrum. Thinking it was a general helper in the hall, I 
held out the glass to let him fill it with water. But the man in 
white brushed it aside indignantly and addressed the gathering, 
shouting excitedly: “I am the Brazilian ambassador. I want to pro- 
test: Prestes is nothing but a common criminal . . .” 

At these words, the audience cut him off with ear-splitting 
whistles. A black student, with shoulders as broad as a wardrobe, 
got up in the middle of the hall and, with his hands threateningly 
aimed at the ambassador’s throat, thrust his way toward the 
rostrum. I rushed in to protect the diplomat, and luckily I man- 
aged to get him out of the place without any further damage to 
his high office. 

With such credentials, my trip from Isla Negra to Brazil to 
take part in the popular celebration seemed natural to the Brazil- 
ians. I was stunned when I saw the crowd packed into Pacaembu 
Stadium, in Sao Paulo. I’m told there were more than 130,000 
people. Their heads looked very tiny in the vast circle of the 
stadium. Small of stature, Prestes, who was at my side, seemed to 
me a Lazarus who had just walked out of the grave, neat and 
dressed up for the occasion. He was lean and so white that his skin 
looked transparent, with that strange whiteness prisoners have. 
His intense look, the huge violet circles under his eyes, his ex- 
tremely delicate features, his grave dignity, were all a reminder of 
the long sacrifice his life had been. Yet he spoke as calmly as a 
general after a victory. 

I read a poem in his honor, written a few hours earlier. Jorge 
Amado changed only the Spanish word “ albaniles bricklayers, 
for the Portuguese “ pedreiros .” Contrary to my fears, the poem 
read in Spanish was understood by the multitude. After each line 
of my slow reading, there was an explosion of applause from the 
Brazilians. That applause had a deep resonance in my poetry. 
A poet who reads his poems to 1 30,000 people is not the same man, 



and cannot keep on writing in the same way, after such an ex- 

At last I find myself face to face with legendary Luis Carlos 
Prestes. He is waiting for me in the home of some friends of his. 
All of Prestes’s features— the small stature, the leanness, the 
whiteness of onionskin paper— take on the precision of a minia- 
ture. His words also, and perhaps his thinking, seem to match his 
physical make-up. 

For a man of his reserve, he is very friendly with me. I believe 
he is giving me the kind of benevolent treatment we poets fre- 
quently receive from others, a tolerance half-tender and half- 
evasive, very much like that adopted by grownups toward 

Prestes invited me to lunch one day the following week. Then 
one of those disasters occurred to me that can only be blamed 
on fate or my irresponsibility. It so happens that, although 
the Portuguese language has its Saturday and Sunday, it does not 
single out the other days of the week as Monday, Tuesday, 
Wednesday, etc., but with devilish names like segunda-feira, terga- 
feira, quarta-feira, skipping, however, the first feira. I get all 
tangled up in those feiras, and never know which day is which. 

I went to spend a few hours at the beach with a lovely Brazilian 
friend, ever mindful, however, that Prestes had set the luncheon 
date for the next day. On the quarta-feira I discovered that 
Prestes had waited for me in vain on the terga-feira, with the table 
set, while I idled away the hours on the beach at Ipanema. He 
looked for me high and low, but no one knew where I was. In 
deference to my special tastes, the ascetic captain had ordered 
excellent wines that were difficult to obtain in Brazil. We were to 
have had lunch alone. 

Every time I remember this story, I could die of shame. I have 
been able to learn just about everything in my life, except the 
names of the days of the Portuguese week. 


When I was about to leave Santiago, I heard that Victorio Codo- 
villa wanted to talk to me. I went to see him. We were always 
good friends, right up to his death. 

Poetry Is an Occupation 


Codovilla had been a member of the Third International and 
possessed all the faults of the time. He was authoritarian, a per- 
sonalist, and always thought he was right. He imposed his judg- 
ment on. others easily and cut through their will like a knife going 
through butter. He was always in a hurry when he came to meet- 
ings, giving the impression that he had thought out everything 
and had all the answers ready, and seemed to listen to the opinions 
of others out of politeness and with a certain impatience; then he 
would issue peremptory orders. His tremendous ability and 
his knack of summing things up were overpowering. He worked 
without respite, imposing that same rhythm on his fellows, and 
always gave me the feeling that he was one of the great political 
thinking machines of the day. 

He always showed a very special feeling of understanding and 
deference toward me. This Italian— transformed and utilitarian in 
public life— was human to a fault, with a profound artistic sense 
that made him understand errors and weaknesses in men of culture. 
But this did not stop him from being implacable, and at times 
deadly, in political life. 

He was worried, he told me, about Prestes’s misinterpretation 
of Peron’s dictatorship. Codovilla believed Peron and has move- 
ment were an offshoot of European Fascism. No anti-Fascist could 
sit back quietly and accept Peron’s increasing power or his re- 
peated repressive actions. Codovilla and the Argentine Commu- 
nist Party believed, at this time, that insurrection was the only 
answer to Peron, and wanted me to talk with Prestes about this. 
It’s not a mission, he told me, but I sensed some preoccupation 
behind his usual cocksure front. 

After the Pacaembu rally, I had a long talk with Prestes. It 
was impossible to find two men who were more dissimilar, more 
diametrically opposed. A hefty man brimming with health, the 
Italo-Argentine invariably seemed to take over a whole room, a 
whole table, everything around him. Thin and ascetic, Prestes 
looked frail enough for a puff of wind to sweep him out the 
window. Yet I discovered that, behind their appearances, the two 
men were equally tough. 

“There’s no Fascism in Argentina. Peron is a caudillo but not a 
Fascist,” Prestes said, answering my questions. “Where are the 
brown shirts? The Fascist militias? 

“Besides, Codovilla is wrong. Lenin says that insurrection is not 



something to play with. And you can’t always be declaring war 
without soldiers, with only volunteers to count on.” 

Deep down, these two men, so different from each other, were 
inflexible. One of them, probably Prestes, was right about these 
things, but the dogmatism of both these admirable revolutionaries 
often built up an atmosphere around them that I found impossible 
to breathe. 

I should also add that Codovilla was a man of vitality. I was 
very much in favor of his fight against the hypocrisy and puri- 
tanism of the Communist era. Our great Chilean of the old-time 
party days, Lafertte, was an obsessively militant teetotaler. Old 
Lafertte also growled constantly against love affairs and flirta- 
tions, outside the pale of the Civil Registry, between men and 
women of the party. Codovilla defeated our limited teacher with 
his own limitless vital capacity. 


Many people have thought that I am or have been an important 
politician. I don’t know where this famous legend got started. 
One day I was frankly surprised to see my picture, as tiny as a 
stamp, included in a two-page spread in Life magazine in which it 
had put on display the leaders of world Communism, for the 
benefit of its readers. My likeness, stuck in somewhere between 
Prestes and Mao Tse-tung, seemed a funny joke to me, but I did 
not disabuse anyone, because I have always detested letters of 
rectification. Aside from this, it was amusing to have the C.I.A. 
fall into this error despite the five million agents it has throughout 
the world. 

The longest contact 1 have maintained with any of the key 
figures of world socialism was during our visit to Peking. It con- 
sisted of a toast I drank with Mao Tse-tung during a ceremony. 
As our glasses touched, he looked at me with smiling eyes and a 
broad grin that was half friendly and half ironic. He held my 
hand in his, squeezing it a few seconds longer than customary. 
Then he returned to the table he had left. 

On my many visits to the U.S.S.R. I saw neither Molotov nor 
Vishinsky nor Beria; not even Mikoyan or Litvinov, more so- 
ciable and less mysterious than the others. 

Poetry Is an Occupation 


I saw Stalin at a distance, more than once, always in the same 
spot: the platform which stands high over Red Square and is 
crowded with high-level leaders every year on May i and 
November 7. I spent long hours in the Kremlin, as part of the 
jury for the prizes that bore Stalin’s name, without ever meeting 
him even in a hallway. He never came to see us during our voting 
sessions or lunches, and he never had us called in even for a word 
of greeting. The prizes were always awarded unanimously, but 
there were times when the debate for the selection of the winning 
candidate was hard-fought. I always had the feeling that, before 
the final decision was made, someone on the jury panel rushed the 
possible outcome of the voting to the great man to see if it had his 
blessing. But I really can’t recall a single time when we had any 
objection from him, and although he was obviously close by, I 
don’t recall that he ever acknowledged our presence there. With- 
out doubt, Stalin cultivated his mysteriousness systematically; or 
else he was extremely timid, a man who was his own prisoner. It is 
possible that this trait had much to do with the strong influence 
Beria had over him. Beria was the only one who went in and out 
of Stalin’s rooms unannounced. 

However, on one occasion I did have an unexpected encounter, 
which even now seems remarkable to me, with the Kremlin’s 
mystery man. The Aragons— Louis and Elsa— and I were on our 
way to the Kremlin to take part in the meeting that would decide 
the Stalin Prizes that year. Heavy snowstorms held us up in War- 
saw. We would not make our appointment on time. One of the 
Russians with us radioed ahead to Moscow, in Russian, the names 
of the candidates Aragon and I favored— who, by the way, were 
approved at the meeting. But the strange thing about this is that 
the Russian, who received a reply over the telephone, called me 
aside and surprised me by saying, “I congratulate you. Comrade 
Neruda. When the list of possible winners of the prize was sub- 
mitted to Comrade Stalin, he exclaimed: ‘And why isn’t Neruda’s 
name among them?’ ” 

The following year, I received the Stalin Prize for Peace and 
Friendship among Peoples. I may have deserved it, but I still ask 
myself how that withdrawn man ever found out that I existed. 

Around that time I heard of other similar interventions by 
Stalin. When the campaign against cosmopolitanism was grow- 

3 i8 


ing more intense and the starched-coilar sectarians were calling 
for Ehrenburg’s head, the telephone rang one morning in the 
home of the author of Julio Jurenito. Lyuba answered. A vaguely 
familiar voice asked: “Is Ilya Gregorievich there?” 

“That depends,” Lyuba answered. “Who are you?” 

“This is Stalin,” the voice said. 

“For you, Ilya, some joker,” Lyuba told Ehrenburg. 

But when he got to the telephone, the writer recognized 
Stalin’s well-known voice: “I spent the night reading your book 
The Fall of Paris. I am calling to tell you to keep on writing 
books as interesting as this one, dear Ilya Gregorievich.” 

Maybe that unexpected call made the great Ehrenburg’s long 
life possible. 

Another case: Mayakovsky was already dead, but his obstinate 
reactionary enemies attacked the poet’s memory tooth and nail, 
determined to wipe him off the map of Soviet literature. Then 
something happened that upset these designs. His beloved Lili 
Brik wrote a letter to Stalin pointing out how shameful these 
attacks were and passionately defending Mayakovsky’s poetry. 
His assailants, who thought themselves invulnerable, protected by 
their collective mediocrity, were in for a rude jolt. On the mar- 
gin of Lili Brik’s letter, Stalin noted down: “Mayakovsky is the 
best poet of the Soviet era.” 

After that, museums and monuments sprang up in honor of 
Mayakovsky and many editions of his extraordinary poetry were 
published. His opponents froze, struck powerless by Jehovah’s 
trumpet blast. 

I also learned that among Stalin’s papers found after his death 
there was a list that read: “Do not touch,” in his own handwrit- 
ing. That list was headed by the composer Shostakovich, fol- 
lowed by other eminent names: Eisenstein, Pasternak, Ehrenburg, 
et cetera. 

Many have believed me a die-hard Stalinist. Fascists and re- 
actionaries have described me as a lyric interpreter of Stalin. I am 
not particularly put out by this. Any judgment is possible in a 
diabolically confused era. 

The private tragedy for us Communists was to face the fact 
that, in several aspects of the Stalin problem, the enemy was right. 

Poetry Is an Occupation 


This revelation, which was staggering, left us in a painful state of 
mind. Some felt that they had been deceived. Desperately, they 
accepted the enemy’s reasoning and went over to its side. Others 
believed that the harrowing facts, implacably brought to light 
during the Twentieth Congress, proved the integrity of a Com- 
munist Party which survived, letting the world see the historical 
truth and accepting its own responsibility. 

If it is really true that we all shared this responsibility, the act 
of denouncing those crimes led us back to self-criticism and anal- 
ysis, elements essential to our doctrine, and gave us the weapons 
needed to prevent such horrible things from happening again. 

This has been my stand: above the darkness, unknown to me, 
of the Stalin era, Stalin rose before my eyes, a good-natured man 
of principles, as sober as a hermit, a titanic defender of the Rus- 
sian Revolution. Moreover, this small man with his huge mous- 
tache had become a giant in wartime. With his name on its lips, 
the Red Army attacked and demolished the power of Hitler’s 

And yet I dedicated only one of my poems to this powerful 
personality. It was on the occasion of his death. Anyone can find 
it in my collected works. The death of the Cyclops of the Krem- 
lin had world-wide impact. The human jungle shuddered. My 
poem captured the feeling of that panic on earth. 


Very put out about it, Gabriel Garcia Marquez told me how 
some erotic passages of his marvelous One Hundred Years of 
Solitude had been cut in Moscow. 

“ ‘That’s not right at all,’ I told the publishers. 

“ ‘The book doesn’t lose anything by it,’ they replied, and I 
saw that they had made the cuts without malice. Still, they did 
make them.” 

How can these things be set right? Each day, I am less and less 
of a sociologist. Aside from my general Marxist principles, aside 
from my dislike of capitalism and my faith in socialism, I under- 
stand humanity’s persistent contradictions less and less. 

We poets of this age have had to make a choice. The choice has 
not been a bed of roses. The terrible, unjust wars, the continual 

3 2 ° 


pressures, money’s aggressiveness, all injustices have made them- 
selves felt with greater intensity every day. The decrepit old sys- 
tem has baited its hooks with conditional “freedom,” sex, vio- 
lence, and pleasures paid for in easy monthly installments. 

Today’s poet has looked for a way out of his anguish. Some 
have escaped into mysticism, or the dream of reason. Others are 
fascinated by the spontaneous and destructive violence of the 
young; they have become immediatists without realizing that, in 
today’s belligerent world, this experience has always led to repres- 
sion and sterile agony. 

In my party, Chile’s Communist Party, I found a large group of 
simple people who had left far behind them personal vanity, 
despotism, and material interests. I felt happy knowing honest 
people who were fighting for common decency, for justice. 

I have never had any difficulties wirh my party, which, al- 
though modest, has achieved extraordinary victories for the 
people of Chile, my people. What more can I say? My only hope 
is to be as simple as my comrades, as persistent and invincible as 
they. We never learn enough about humility. I was never taught 
anything by individualist pride, which entrenches itself in skepti- 
cism so as not to espouse the cause of human suffering. 


Two weeks after his victorious entry into Havana, Fidel Castro 
arrived in Caracas for a short visit. He had come to thank the 
government and the Venezuelan people publicly for the help they 
had given him. This help had consisted of arms for his troops, 
and, naturally, it was not Betancourt (recently elected President) 
who supplied them, but his predecessor, Admiral Wolfgang Lar- 
razabal. Larrazabal had been a friend of the Venezuelan leftists, 
including the Communists, and had acceded to the act of soli- 
darity with Cuba that they had asked of him. 

I have seen few political welcomes more enthusiastic than the 
one the Venezuelans gave the young victor of the Cuban revolu- 
tion. Fidel spoke for four uninterrupted hours in the huge square 
of El Silencio, the heart of Caracas. I was one of the 200,000 
people who stood listening to that long speech without uttering a 
word. For me, and for many others, Fidel’s speeches have been a 

Poetry Is an Occupation 


revelation. Hearing him address the crowd, I realized that a new 
age had begun for Latin America. I liked the freshness of his 
language. Even the best of the workers’ leaders and politicians 
usually harp on the same formulas, whose content may be valid, 
though the words have been worn thin and weakened by repeti- 
tion. Fidel ignored such formulas. His language was didactic but 
natural. He himself appeared to be learning as he spoke and 

President Betancourt was not there. He dreaded the thought of 
facing the city of Caracas, where he had never been liked. Every 
time Fidel mentioned him in his speech, whistles and catcalls 
broke out, which Fidel’s hands tried to silence. I believe a definite 
hostility was established that day between Betancourt and the 
Cuban revolutionary. Fidel was neither Marxist nor Communist 
at the time; his words had nothing to do with either ideology. My 
personal opinion is that the speech, Fidel’s fiery and brilliant per- 
sonality, the enthusiasm he stirred up in the multitude, the inten- 
sity of the people of Caracas listening to him, troubled Betan- 
court, a politician of the old school of rhetoric, committees, and 
secret meetings. From then on, Betancourt has persecuted with 
implacable brutality anything at all that smacked of Fidel Castro 
or the Cuban revolution. 

On the day after the rally, while I was on a Sunday picnic in 
the country, some motorcycles came to us with an invitation to 
the Cuban Embassy. They had been looking for me all day and 
had finally discovered my whereabouts. The reception would be 
that same afternoon. Matilde and I went straight to the Embassy. 
The guests were so numerous that they overflowed the halls and 
gardens. Outside, there were swarms of people, and it was diffi- 
cult to get through the streets leading to the building. 

We crossed rooms packed with people, a trench of arms hold- 
ing cocktail glasses high. Someone led us down corridors and 
stairs to another floor. Celia, Fidel’s closest friend and secretary, 
was waiting for us in an unexpected part of the house. Matilde 
remained with her, and I was taken into the next room. I found 
myself in a kind of servant’s room, a gardener’s or chauffeur’s. In 
it there was only a bed someone had hurried out of, leaving it all 
messed up, with the pillow on the floor, and a small table in a 
corner; nothing more. I thought I would be led from there to 

3 22 


some cozy little sitting room to meet the Commandant. Well, 
that’s not what happened. Suddenly the door opened and Fidel 
Castro’s tall figure filled the frame. 

He was a head taller than I. He came toward me with quick 

“Hello, Pablo! ” he said and smothered me in a bear hug. 

His reedy, almost childish voice, took me by surprise. Some- 
thing about his appearance also matched the tone of his voice. 
Fidel did not give the impression of being a big man, but an 
overgrown boy whose legs had suddenly shot up before he had 
lost his kid’s face and his scanty adolescent’s beard. 

Brusquely, he interrupted the embrace, and galvanized into 
action, made a half turn and headed resolutely toward a corner of 
the room. 1 had not noticed a news photographer who had 
sneaked in and was aiming his camera at us from the corner. Fidel 
was on him with a single rush. I saw him grab the man by the 
throat and start shaking him. The camera fell to the floor. I went 
over to Fidel and gripped his arm, frightened by the sight of the 
tiny photographer struggling vainly. But Fidel shoved him to- 
ward the door, making him disappear. Then he turned back to 
me, smiling, picked the camera off the floor, and flung it on the 

We did not speak of the incident, only of the possibility of a 
press agency for all of Latin America. I think Prensa Latina was 
bom of that conversation. Then we went back to the reception, 
each of us through his own door. 

As I was returning from the Embassy with Matilde an hour 
later, the terrified face of the photographer and the instinctive 
speed of the guerrilla leader, who had sensed the intruder’s silent 
entry behind his back, came into my mind. 

That was my first meeting with Fidel Castro. Why did he 
object so savagely to being photographed? Did his objection hide 
some small political mystery? To this day, I can’t understand why 
our interview had to be kept so secret. 

My first meeting with Che Guevara was entirely different. It 
took place in Havana. It was almost 1:00 a.m. when I went to see 
him at his office in the Department of Finance or Economy, I 
don’t quite remember which, where he had invited me. He had set 


Poetry Is an Occupation 

our appointment for midnight, but I arrived late. I had attended 
an interminable official ceremony for which I had been seated with 
the presidium. 

Che was wearing boots and regimentals, with pistols at his 
waist. His clothes struck a discordant note in the banking atmo- 
sphere of the office. Che was dark, slow-speaking, with an unmis- 
takable Argentine accent. He was the kind of man you talk with 
unhurriedly on the pampas between one mate and the next. His 
sentences were short and rounded off with a smile, as if leaving the 
discussion up in the air. 

I was flattered by what he told me about my book Canto gene- 
ral. He would read it to his guerrillas at night, in the Sierra 
Maestra. Now, years later, I shudder when I think that my poems 
accompanied him to his death. Through Regis Debray I learned 
that, till the very end in the Bolivian mountains, he kept only two 
books in his duffel bag: a math book and my Canto general. 

Something that Che told me that night threw me off quite a bit 
but perhaps explains his fate. His look wandered from my eyes to 
the darkened window of the office. We were talking of a possible 
North American invasion of Cuba. I had seen sandbags scattered 
at strategic points in the Havana streets. Suddenly he said, “War 
. . . War . . . We are always against war, but once we have 
fought in a war, we can’t live without it. We want to go back to 
it all the time.” 

He was thinking out loud, for my benefit. I was frankly 
startled, listening to him. For me, war is a menace, not a goal. 

We said goodbye and I never saw him again. Afterwards, there 
was his fighting in the Bolivian jungle, and his tragic death. But I 
keep on seeing in Che Guevara the pensive man who in his heroic 
battles always had a place, next to his weapons, for poetry. 

Latin America is very fond of the word “hope.” We like to be 
called the “continent of hope.” Candidates for deputy, senator, 
president, call themselves “candidates of hope.” This hope is 
really something like a promise of heaven, an IOU whose pay- 
ment is always being put off. It is put off until the next legislative 
campaign, until next year, until the next century. 

When the Cuban revolution came, millions of South Americans 
had a rude awakening. They couldn’t believe their ears. This 



wasn’t in the cards for a continent that has lived hoping desper- 
ately against hope. Suddenly here was Fidel Castro, a Cuban no 
one had heard of, seizing hope by its hair, or its feet, and not 
letting it fly off but seating it at his table; that is, at the table and 
in the house of the peoples of America. 

From then on, we have made great strides on this road of hope 
now turned into a reality. But we live with our hearts in our 
mouths. A neighboring country, very powerful and highly im- 
perialist, wants to crush Cuba, hopes and all. The masses of all the 
Americas read the paper every day, listen to the radio every 
night. And they sigh with satisfaction. Cuba exists. Another day. 
Another year. Another five years. Our hope has not had its head 
chopped off. Its head will not be chopped off. 


Writers in Peru, among whom I have always had many friends, 
had long urged that I be given an official decoration by their 
country. I confess that medals of this kind have always seemed a 
bit silly to me. The few I had were pinned on my chest without 
love, for duties performed, for time put in as consul; that is, as an 
obligation or a routine. I passed through Lima once and Ciro 
Alegria, the great novelist of The Starving Dogs, who was then 
the Peruvian writers’ president, insisted that his country should 
give me a decoration. My poem Alturas de Macchu Picchu had 
gone on to become a part of Peruvian life; perhaps in those lines I 
had expressed sentiments that had lain dormant like the stones of 
that remarkable structure. Moreover, the President of Peru at that 
time, the architect Belaunde, was my friend and reader. Although 
the revolution that later ousted him violently gave Peru a govern- 
ment that was unexpectedly open to the new roads of history, I 
still believe that Belaunde was a man of irreproachable honesty, 
whose mind was set on somewhat chimerical goals that finally 
turned him away from terrifying reality and separated him from 
the people he loved so deeply. 

I accepted the decoration, this time not for consular services 
but for one of my poems. Besides, and this is not the least of it, 
there are wounds separating the people of Chile and Peru that have 
yet to be healed. Not only athletes, diplomats, and statesmen 
must take pains to stanch that blood from the past, but poets 

Poetry Is an Occupation 32 j 

also, and with all the more reason, for their souls have fewer 
frontiers than the souls of other people. 

Around that same time I made a trip to the United States, 
where an international congress of the P.E.N. club was to be 
held. My friends Arthur Miller, the Argentines Ernesto Sabato 
and Victoria Ocampo, the Uruguayan critic Emir Rodriguez 
Monegal, the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, were among those 
invited. Writers from almost all the socialist countries of Europe 
also attended. 

When I got there, I was told that the Cuban writers had also 
been invited. At the P.E.N. club they were surprised that Carpen- 
tier had not come, and I was asked if I could clear this up. I went 
to see the representative of Prensa Latina in New York, who 
offered to cable a message to Carpentier. The answer given through 
Prensa Latina was that Carpentier could not come because the 
invitation had arrived too late and the North American visas had 
not been ready in time. Someone was lying now: the visas had 
been issued three months before, and three months before, the 
Cubans- had known about the invitation and had accepted. Evi- 
dently there had been a higher-up, last-minute decision, against 

As always, I did what I had to do. I gave my first poetry 
reading in New York, to such a large crowd that closed-circuit 
television had to be set up outside the auditorium so that hundreds 
of people who could not get in could see and hear. I was touched 
by the echo my poems, violently anti-imperialist, stirred up in 
that North American crowd. I understood many things there, 
and in Washington and California, when students and ordi- 
nary people showed approval of my words against imperialism. 1 
learned on the spot that the North American enemies of our 
peoples were also enemies of the North American people. 

I gave several interviews. The Spanish-Ianguage edition of Life 
magazine, edited by parvenu Latin Americans, distorted and 
mutilated my opinions. They did not correct this when I asked 
them to. But it was nothing very serious. They had suppressed 
a paragraph in which I condemned the war in Vietnam and an- 
other about a black leader who had just been assassinated. Only 
years later did the newspaperwoman who edited the interview 
acknowledge that it had been censored. 

During my visit I discovered— and this does honor to my com- 



rades, the North American writers— that they exerted relentless 
pressure to see that I was granted an entry visa to the United 
States. I believe the P.E.N. club even threatened the State Depart- 
ment with an open letter of censure if it continued to deny me an 
entry permit. At a public gathering where she received an award, 
the most respected figure in North American poetry, the elderly 
poet Marianne Moore, took the floor to say how happy she was 
that my legal entry into the country had been obtained through 
the united action of the poets. I was told that her words, which 
were vibrant and moving, drew a tremendous ovation. 

The outrageous fact is that I had barely returned to Chile after 
that tour, which was marked by my most combative political and 
poetic activity, a major part of which was used to defend and 
support the Cuban revolution, when I received the well-known 
slanderous letter from the Cuban writers, accusing me of little less 
than submission and treason. I no longer remember the words 
used by my public prosecutors. I can say, however, that they set 
themselves up as instructors in revolution, pedantic teachers of 
the norms by which writers of the left must be guided. With 
arrogance, insolence, and flattering words they hoped to reform 
my poetry as well as my social revolutionary work. My deco- 
ration for my Macchu Picchu poem and my attendance at the 
P.E.N. club congress, my statements and my readings, my acts and 
words condemning the North American system, spoken right 
in the lion’s mouth— all this was called into question, falsified or 
maligned by those writers, many of them newly come into the 
revolutionary camp, and many of them justly or unjustly in the 
pay of the new Cuban state. 

This bag of injustices bulged with signatures, requested with 
suspicious spontaneity from the committees of writers’ and artists’ 
associations. Delegates rushed about Havana looking for signa- 
tures from entire guilds of musicians, dancers, and artists. Artists 
and writers who were passing through, who had been generously 
invited to Cuba and filled the most fashionable hotels, were asked 
to sign. Some of the writers whose names were printed at the 
bottom of the unjust document later sent me surreptitious mes- 
sages: “I never signed it; I found out what it was all about after 
seeing my name, which I never signed.” A friend of Juan Mari- 
nello’s told me that the same thing had happened to him, although 

Poetry Is an Occupation 327 

I haven’t been able to check on that. I have verified it in other 

The affair was a ball of wool or snow or ideological skulduggery 
that must be made to grow bigger and bigger at all costs. Special 
agencies were set up in Madrid, Paris, and other capitals, whose 
sole job was to send out copies of the lying letter, in huge batches. 
Thousands of those letters went out, especially from Madrid, in 
bunches of twenty to thirty copies for each addressee. In a grue- 
some way, it was amusing to receive those envelopes, decorated 
with stamps bearing Franco’s portrait, while inside the envelopes 
Pablo Neruda was accused of being a counterrevolutionary. 

It is not up to me to ferret out the motives for that fit of rage: 
political chicanery, ideological weakness, literary spite and envy 
—and who knows what else— were responsible for this battle of 
so many against one. I was told later that the enthusiastic editors, 
promoters, and hunters of signatures for the famous letter were 
the writers Roberto Fernandez Retamar, Edmundo Desnoes, and 
Lisandro Otero. I don’t recall ever reading Desnoes and Otero or 
meeting them personally. Retamar, yes. In Havana and Paris he 
tagged behind me constantly with his adulation. He used to tell 
me that he had published many essays and articles praising my 
work. I really never considered him important, just one more 
among the political and literary arrivistes of our time. 

Perhaps they fancied that they could harm or destroy me as an 
active revolutionary. But when I got to Teatinos Street in Santi- 
ago to take up the matter for the first time with the party’s cen- 
tral committee, they had already formed their opinion, at least 
politically. “It is the first attack against our Chilean party,” I was 

We were living through serious conflicts at the time. Vene- 
zuelan, Mexican, and other Communists were having ideological 
disputes with the Cubans. Later, in tragic circumstances but 
in silence, the Bolivians also dissented. 

The Communist Party in Chile decided to award me, in a pub- 
lic ceremony, the Recabarren medal, which had recently been 
established and was to go to its best activists. It was a levelheaded 
response. The Chilean Communist Party endured this period of 
divergences intelligently, it stuck by its intention of analyzing our 
disagreements internally. In time, all traces of a fight have been 



wiped away. A clear understanding and a fraternal relationship 
exist between the two most important Communist Parties of Latin 

As for me, I continue to be the same person who wrote Can- 
cion de gesta. It is a book I still like. I can’t forget that with it I 
became the first poet to devote an entire book to praising the 
Cuban revolution. 

I understand, of course, that revolutions, and particularly those 
who take part in them, fall into error and injustice, from time to 
time. The unwritten precepts of the human race affect revolu- 
tionaries and counterrevolutionaries equally. No one can escape 
errors. A blind spot, a tiny blind spot in a revolutionary process is 
not very important within the larger context of a great cause. I 
have continued to sing, love, and respect the Cuban revolution, its 
people, its noble protagonists. 

But everyone has his failings. I have many. For instance, I don’t 
like to give up the pride I feel about my inflexible stand as a fight- 
ing revolutionary. Maybe that, or some other flaw in my insignif- 
icant self, has made me refuse until now, and I will go on refusing, 
to shake hands with any of those who knowingly or unknowingly 
signed that letter which still seems ignominious to me. 



Cruel , Beloved Homeland 


F ormer anarchists— and the same thing will happen tomorrow 
to the anarchists of today— very often drift off toward a very 
comfortable position, anarcho-capitalism, the refuge of political 
snipers, would-be leftists, and false liberals. Repressive capitalism 
considers Communists its biggest enemies, and its aim seldom misses 
the mark. All those individualist rebels are delighted, one way or 
another, by the reactionary know-how, the strong-arm method 
that treats them as heroic defenders of sacrosanct principles. Re- 
actionaries know that the danger of change in a society is not in 
individual revolts but in the organization of the masses and in a 
widespread class consciousness. 

I saw all this clearly in Spain during the war. Some anti-Fascist 
groups were playing out a masked carnival before Hitler’s and 
Franco’s forces, which were advancing on Madrid. Naturally, I 
don’t include anarchists like Durruti and his Catalans, who fought 
like lions in Barcelona. 

Spies are a thousand times worse than extremists. From time to 
time, enemy agents hired by the police, reactionary parties, or 
foreign governments filter in among the activists of revolutionary 
parties. Some of them carry out special missions of provocation; 
others are patient observers. Azev’s is a classic case. Before the fall 
of Tsarism, he took part in numerous terrorist acts and was 

3 2 9 

33 ° 


jailed many times. The memoirs of the chief of the Tsar’s secret 
police, published after the Revolution, related in detail how Azev 
had always been an agent of the Okhrana. The terrorist and the 
informer coexisted in the mind of this bizarre character, whose 
actions were responsible for the death of a Grand Duke. 

Another curious incident occurred in Los Angeles, San Fran- 
cisco, or some other California city. During the insane wave of 
McCarthyism, all the activists in the Communist Party in town 
were arrested. There were seventy-five persons, all told, with 
complete files on their lives and their day-to-day movements. 
Well, the seventy-five turned out to be police agents. The F.B.I. 
had permitted itself the luxury of creating its own miniature 
“Communist Party,” with individuals who were strangers to one 
another, in order to prosecute them later and claim sensational 
victories over non-existent enemies. This way of doing things got 
the F.B.I. into such grotesque predicaments as the one where 
some fellow called Chambers, an ex-Communist bought by police 
dollars, kept the most explosive international secrets hidden in a 
pumpkin. The F.B.I. was also implicated in horrifying acts, 
among them the execution, or assassination, of the Rosenbergs, 
which particularly outraged the world. 

It was always more difficult for these agents to infiltrate Chile’s 
Communist Party, an organization with a long history and a 
strictly proletarian origin. On the other hand, guerrilla methods in 
Latin America opened the floodgates for all kinds of squealers. 
The spontaneous character and the youth of these organizations 
made it hard to detect and unmask spies. That’s why the guerrilla 
leaders were haunted by suspicions and had to keep an eye even 
on their own shadows. In a way, this cult of risk was encouraged 
by the romantic spirit and the wild guerrilla theories that swept 
Latin America. This era may have come to an end with the assas- 
sination and heroic death of Ernesto Guevara. But for a long time 
the supporters of this tactic saturated the continent with theses 
and documents that virtually allotted the popular revolutionary 
government of the future, not to the classes exploited by capi- 
talism, but to all and sundry armed groups. The flaw in this line 
of reasoning is its political weakness: it is sometimes possible for a 
great guerrilla and a powerful political mind to coexist, as in the 
case of Che Guevara, but that is an exception and wholly depen- 

Cruel, Beloved Homeland 


dent on chance. The survivors of a guerrilla war cannot lead a 
proletarian state simply because they were braver, or because 
they were luckier in the face of death, or better shots when facing 
the living. 

Now I’ll recount a personal experience. I was in Chile, just 
back from Mexico. At one of the political gatherings I attended, a 
man came over to say hello to me. He was a middle-aged man, the 
model man of today, very correctly dressed and wearing those 
glasses that make people look so respectable, rimless glasses that 
are clipped to the nose. He turned out to be a very affable person. 
“Don Pablo, I had never been able to build up the courage to 
approach you, although I owe you my life. I am one of the refu- 
gees you saved from the concentration camps and gas ovens 
when you put us aboard the Winnipeg, bound for Chile. I am a 
Catalan, a Freemason. I’ve established a place for myself here. I 
work as a top salesman of sanitary articles for Such & Such Co., 
the most important of its kind in Chile.” 

He told me he lived in a nice apartment in the center of Santi- 
ago. His next-door neighbor was a well-known tennis champion 
named Iglesias, who had been my schoolmate. They spoke of me 
frequently and had finally decided to invite me to the house and 
entertain me. That’s why he had come to see me. 

The Catalan’s apartment had all the signs of the comfortable 
life of our bourgeoisie. Impeccable furniture; a golden and abun- 
dant paella. Iglesias was with us all through lunch. We laughed at 
the memory of the old schoolhouse in Temuco, in whose base- 
ments the bats’ wings brushed our faces. At the end of lunch, the 
hospitable Catalan gave a little speech and made me a gift of two 
splendidly reproduced photographs: one of Baudelaire and the 
other of Edgar Allan Poe. Splendid heads of poets, which, of 
course, I still have in my library. 

One day our Catalan had a stroke that left him immobile in bed, 
without the use of speech or facial expression. Only his eyes 
moved, filled with pain, as if trying to say something to his wife, 
an excellent Spanish Republican with an irreproachable past, or to 
his neighbor Iglesias, my friend the tennis champion. The man 
died without speaking or moving again. 

While the house was still filled with tears, friends, and wreaths, 

33 * 


his neighbor the tennis player received a mysterious call: “We 
know of your close friendship with the dead man. He never tired 
of praising you. If you want to do a very important service to the 
memory of your friend, open his strong box and take out a little 
steel case put away for safekeeping there. I’ll call you again in 
three days.” 

The widow wouldn’t hear of such a thing. Her grief was ex- 
treme, she didn’t want to know about anything. She left the 
apartment and moved to a rooming house on Santo Domingo 
Street. The landlord was a Yugoslav, a member of the resistance, 
a man toughened by politics. The widow begged him to examine 
her husband’s papers. The Yugoslav found the little metal case 
and opened it with much difficulty. Then the strangest cat was let 
out of the bag. The documents which had been put away there 
disclosed that the dead man had been a Fascist agent. Copies of his 
letters revealed the names of dozens of emigrants who, on return- 
ing to Spain secretly, had been thrown into prison or executed. 
There was even a letter in Franco’s hand, thanking him for his 
services. Information from the Catalan also helped the Nazi navy 
sink freighters leaving the Chilean coast with war materials. 
One of these was our beautiful ship, the veteran Lautaro, pride of 
Chile’s navy. It was sunk during the war, with its cargo of nitrate, 
as it left Tocopilla. The wreck took the lives of seventeen naval 
cadets, drowned or burned to death. 

These had been the criminal acts of a smiling Catalan who in- 
vited me to lunch one day. 


. . . Some years have passed since 1 became a member of the 
party ... I am happy . . . Communists make a good family 
. . . They have weather-beaten hides and warm hearts . . . 
They take whacks everywhere . . . Whacks exclusively for 
them . . . Long live spiritists, royalists, deviates, criminals of 
every ilk . . . Long live philosophy with its smoke screen but 
without skeletons . . . Long live the dog that barks but also 
bites, long live lecherous astrologers, pornography , cynicism, 
long live the shrimp, long live everyone, except Communists . . . 
Long live chastity belts, long live the conservatives who haven't 

Cruel , Beloved Homeland 


washed their ideological feet in five hundred years . . . Long live 
the lice of the poor, the free trip to potter's field, anarcho-capital- 
ism, Rilke, Andre Gide and his sweet little Cory don, long live all 
kinds of mysticism . . . Anything goes . . . They're all heroes 
. . . All newspapers should be brought out . . . They can all be 
published, except the Communist papers . . . Let all politicians 
into Santo Domingo free as birds . . . Let them all celebrate 
the death of bloodthirsty Trujillo, except those who. fought him 
hardest . . . Long live the carnival, the last days of the carnival 
. . . There are masks for everyone . . . Christian idealist 
masks, extreme-left masks, good-gray -lady and charitable-matron 
masks . . . But watch out, don't let the Conmtunists in .. . 
Lock the door tight . . . Don't make a mistake . . . They 
have no right to anything . . . Let's worry about the subjective, 
man's essence, the essence of essence . . . We'll all be happy that 
way . . . We’ve got freedom . . . Freedom is great / . . . They 
don't respect it, they don’t know what it is .. . Freedom to 
worry about the essence . . . About the essentials of essence . . . 

. . . That's how the last years passed . . . Jazz went out, soul 
arrived, we floundered in the postulates of abstract painting, the 
war staggered and killed us .. . Everything remained the same 
on this side . . . Or didn’t it .. . ? After so many speeches 
about the spirit and so many whacks on the head, something was 
going badly ... Very badly . . . They had figured it out 
wrong . . . The people were organizing ... The guerrilla 
wars and the strikes went on .. . Cuba and Chile won their 
freedom . . . Countless men and women sang the Internationale 
. . . How odd . . . How disheartening . . . Now they sing it 
in Chinese, Bulgarian, in the Spanish of Latin America . . . 
We’ve got to do something about it quickly . . . We must ban 
it . . . We must talk about the spirit some more . . . And sing 
the praises of the free world some more , . . We must hand out 
some more whacks, some more dollars . . . This can’t go on 
. . . Between the freedom to hand out whacks and Gertndn 
Arciniegas’s fear . . . And now Cuba ... In the middle of our 
hemisphere, in the middle of our apple, these long-beards all sing- 
ing the same song ... And what good is Christ to us ... ? 
What good have the priests done us . . . ? We can’t trust any- 
body any more . . . Not even the priests . . . They don’t see 



eye to eye with us . . . They don't see how our stocks are 
plunging in the market . . . 

. . . Meanwhile, men are soaring into the solar system . . . 
Shoes track up the moon . . . Everything struggles to change, 
except the outworn systems . . . These outworn systems were 
spawned in the immense spiderwebs of the Middle Ages . . . 
Spiderwebs stronger than the steel of machinery ... Yet there 
are people who believe in change, who have made changes, who 
have made the changes work, who have made change burst into 
flower . . . Caramba! . . . Nobody can hold spring back! 


I have spent almost all of 1 969 in Isla Negra. Starting early in the 
morning, the sea goes into its fantastic swelling-up routine, look- 
ing as if it were kneading an infinite loaf of bread. The spilling 
foam, driven up by the icy yeast of the deep, is white like flour. 

Winter is solidly entrenched and foggy. Every day we add to 
its local charm with a fire in the hearth. The whiteness of the 
sands on the beach offers us a world forever solitary, as it was 
before there were any people or summer vacationers on earth. 
But don’t think that I hate summer crowds. As soon as summer 
nears, girls come to the sea, men and children approach the waves 
cautiously, leaping clear of danger. It’s their version of man’s 
thousand-year-old dance, perhaps the first of all summer dances. 

In winter the houses in Isla Negra are covered up by night’s 
darkness. Only mine lights up. Sometimes I think there is someone 
in the house across the road, I see a light in a window. It’s only an 
optical illusion. There is no one in the Captain’s house. It’s the 
light from my window mirrored in his. 

I’ve gone to write every day of the year in the hideaway where 
I do my work. It’s not easy to get there or stay there. For the 
moment my two dogs, Panda and Chou Tu, have something to 
keep them happy. It’s a Bengal tiger’s skin, which I use as a rug in 
this small room. I brought it from China a good many years ago. 
Its claws and hair have fallen out. And there’s some danger from 
the moths, but Matilde and I ward them off. 

My dogs like to sprawl out over the old enemy. They fall 
asleep instantly, like victors after a battle, drained by the fight. 

Cruel, Beloved Homeland ^ ^ 

They stretch across the door as if to force me to stay in, to go on 
with my work. 

There’s always something going on in this house. There’s a 
long-distance call for me. What should the answer be? I’m not in. 
Someone sends another message. What should the answer be? 
I’m in. 

I’m not in. I’m in. I’m in. I’m not in. This is the life of a poet 
whose remote hideaway in Isla Negra has stopped being remote. 

I am always being asked, especially by journalists, what I am 
writing, what I am working on. This question has always sur- 
prised me because it’s so superficial. For, as a matter of fact, I am 
always doing the same thing. I have never stopped doing the same 
thing. Poetry? 

I had been at it a long time before I realized that I was writing 
something called poetry. I have never been interested in defini- 
tions or labels. Discussions of aesthetics bore me to death. I am 
not belittling those who have them, but I am as indifferent to the 
birth certificate of a literary work as I am to the post-mortem on 
it. “And nothing exterior shall ever take command of me,” said 
Walt Whitman. And, for all their merits, the paraphernalia of lit- 
erature should not take the place of naked creation. 

I changed notebooks several times during the year. Those note- 
books bound together by the green thread of my handwriting are 
around somewhere. I filled many that gradually turned into 
books, passing from one metamorphosis into another, from 
immobility into movement, from glowworms into fireflies. 

Political life came like a thunderclap to pull me away from my 
work. I returned to the crowds once more. 

The human crowd has been the lesson of my life. I can come to 
it with the born timidity of the poet, with the fear of the timid, 
but once I am in its midst, I feel transfigured. I am part of the 
essential majority, I am one more leaf on the great human tree. 

Solitude and multitude will go on being the primary obligations 
of the poet in our time. In solitude, the battle of the surf on the 
Chilean coast made my life richer. I was intrigued by and have 
loved passionately the battling waters and the rocks they battled 
against, the teeming ocean life, the impeccable formation of the 
“wandering birds,” the splendor of the sea’s foam. 



But I learned much more from the huge tide of lives, from the 
tenderness I saw in thousands of eyes watching me together. This 
message may not come to all poets, but anyone who has felt it will 
keep it in his heart, will work it into his poems. 

To have embodied hope for many men, even for one minute, is 
something unforgettable and profoundly touching for the poet. 


One morning in 1 969 the secretary general of my party and other 
comrades came to my seaside hide-out, my house in Isla Negra. 
They came to offer me the conditional candidacy for President of 
the Republic, a candidacy they would propose to the six or seven 
parties of Popular Unity. They had everything ready: program, 
type of government, emergency measures for the future, etc. Up 
until that moment, each of those parties had a candidate and each 
wanted to keep him. We Communists were the only ones who did 
not have one. Our position was to back the one candidate desig- 
nated by the leftist parties; he would become the Popular Unity’s 
candidate. But it was all up in the air, and it could not be left like 
that much longer. The candidates of the right were in the thick of 
the race and had their publicity machines going strong. Unless we 
united under a common electoral cause, we would suffer a crush- 
ing defeat. 

The only way to achieve some sort of unity quickly was for 
the Communists to name their own candidate. When I accepted 
the party’s nomination, we made the Communist position quite 
clear. Our support would be thrown to the candidate who had 
the good will of the others. If such a consensus was not reached, I 
would remain a candidate right through to the end. 

It was a courageous way to force the others to come to an 
agreement. When I accepted I told Comrade Corvalan I was 
doing it on condition that my resignation would be accepted 
when I tendered it. My withdrawal was inevitable, I felt. It was 
far too improbable that everyone could be rallied around a Com- 
munist. In other words, all the other parties needed our support 
(even the Christian-Democratic candidates), but none of them 
had to give us theirs. 

However, my candidacy, started that morning in Isla Negra, 

Cruel, Beloved Homeland 


beside the sea, caught fire. I was in demand everywhere. I was 
moved by the hundreds and thousands of ordinary men and 
women who crushed me to them and kissed me and wept. Slum 
dwellers from the outskirts of Santiago, miners from Coquimbo, 
men who worked copper in the desert, peasant women who 
waited for me hours on end with babies in their arms, the ne- 
glected and poor from the Bio-Bio River to beyond the Strait of 
Magellan— I spoke or read my poems to them all in pouring rain, 
in the mud on streets and roads, in the south wind that sends 
shivers through each of us. 

My enthusiasm was mounting. More and more people were 
attending my rallies, more and more women coming to them. 
Fascinated and terrified, I began to wonder what I would do if I 
was elected President of a republic wholly untamed, patently un- 
able to solve its problems, deeply in debt— and probably the most 
ungrateful of them all. Its Presidents were acclaimed in the first 
month and martyred, justly or not, for the remainder of the five 
years and eleven months of their tenure. 

allende’s campaign 

It was a happy day when the news came: Allende had emerged as 
the one promising candidate of the entire Popular Unity. With 
the approval of my party, I quickly turned in my resignation. 
Before a huge and happy crowd, I announced my withdrawal and 
Allende accepted his nomination. The enormous rally was held in 
a park. People filled every visible space, including the trees; legs 
and heads stuck out of the branches. There is nothing like these 
hard-bitten Chileans. 

I knew the candidate. I had been with him in three previous 
campaigns, reading poems and making speeches all through Chile’s 
abrupt and endless territory. Three times in succession, every six 
years, my persistent comrade had been a presidential contender. 
This would be the fourth, and the victorious time. 

Arnold Bennett or Somerset Maugham (I don’t remember just 
which of the two) tells about a time when hd had to share a 
room with Winston Churchill. The first thing that eminent politi- 
cian did on waking was to stretch out a hand to take a huge 
Havana from the night table, the moment he opened his eyes, and 

33 « 


start smoking it, right then and there. Only a healthy cave man, 
with the iron constitution of the Stone Age, can do this. 

None of those who accompanied Allende could keep up with 
his stamina. He had a knack worthy of Churchill himself: he 
could fall asleep whenever he felt like it. Sometimes we would be 
traveling over the infinite arid stretches of the north of Chile. 
Allende slept soundly in a corner of the car. Suddenly a small red 
speck would appear on the road, and, as we approached, it would 
become a group of fifteen or twenty men with their wives, their 
children, and their flags. The car would stop. Allende would rub 
his eyes to face the high sun and the small group, which was 
singing. He would join in and sing the national anthem. And he 
would speak to them— lively, swift, and eloquent. Then he would 
return to the car and we would continue on over Chile’s long 
long roads. Allende would sink back into sleep effortlessly. Every 
twenty-five minutes or so, the scene would be repeated: group, 
flags, song, speech, and back to sleep. 

Facing huge crowds of thousands upon thousands of Chileans, 
going from car to train, from train to airplane, from airplane to 
ship, from ship to horse, Allende would carry out the day’s heavy 
schedule, never holding back, during those exhausting months. 
Almost all the members of his group lagged behind, fatigued. 
Later, when he was in fact President of Chile, his implacable 
efficiency was the cause of four or five heart attacks among his 


When I came to take over the Embassy in Paris, I found that I 
had to pay a heavy price for my vanity. I had accepted the post 
without giving it much thought, once again letting myself be 
swept along by the current of life. I was pleased at the idea of 
representing a victorious popular government, after so many 
years of mediocre and lying ones. Perhaps, deep down, what ap- 
pealed to me most was the thought of entering with new dignity 
the Chilean Embassy building where I had swallowed so many 
humiliations when I organized the immigration of the Spanish 
Republicans into my country. Each of my predecessors had had a 
hand in my persecution, had helped to revile and hurt me. The 
persecuted would now sit in the persecutor’s chair, eat at his table, 

Cruel, Beloved Homeland 


sleep in his bed, and open the windows to let the new air of the 
world into the old Embassy. 

The most difficult part was to let air in. The stifling showplace 
decor stung my nostrils and my eyes that night in March J971 
when Matilde and I came into our bedroom and got into the 
illustrious beds where ambassadors and ambassadors’ wives had 
died peacefully or in torment. 

It’s a bedroom large enough to lodge a warrior and his horse; 
there’s space enough for the horse to feed and the horseman to 
sleep. The ceilings are very high and finely decorated. The furni- 
ture consists of velvety things in a color vaguely resembling a dry 
leaf’s, trimmed with horrible fringes, furnishings in a style that 
shows signs of riches and traces of decadence at the same time. The 
rugs may have been lovely sixty years ago. Now they have taken 
on the permanent color of footprints and a moth-eaten smell of 
conventional and defunct conversations. 

In addition, the nervous personnel who had been waiting for us 
had thought of everything except the heat in the gigantic bed- 
room. Matilde and I spent our first diplomatic night in Paris numb 
with cold. On the second night, the heat worked. It had been in 
use for sixty years and its filters had become useless. The hot air 
of the antiquated system allowed only carbon dioxide to pass 
through. We couldn’t complain about the cold, like the night 
before, but we felt palpitations and distress from the poisoning. 
We had to open the windows to let in the cold winter air. Maybe 
the old-time ambassadors were getting even with an upstart who 
had come to supplant them without bureaucratic merits or genea- 
logical crests. 

We decided we would have to look for a house where we 
could breathe with the leaves, the water, the birds, the air. Even- 
tually this idea would turn into an obsession. Like prisoners kept 
awake by the idea of freedom, we searched and searched for pure 
air outside of Paris. 

Being an ambassador was something new and uncomfortable 
for me. But it held a challenge. A revolution had taken place in 
Chile. A revolution Chilean-style, analyzed and discussed a good 
deal. Enemies within and without were sharpening their teeth to 
destroy it. For one hundred and eighty years, the same kind of 
rulers under different labels had succeeded one another in my 


34 " 

country, and they all did the same thing. The rags, the disgraceful 
housing, the children without schools or shoes, the prisons, and 
the cudgeling of my poor people continued. 

Now we could breathe and sing. That’s what I liked about my 
new situation. 

In Chile, diplomatic appointments require the senate’s approval. 
The Chilean right had constantly praised me as a poet and had 
even honored me with speeches. Of course, it’s obvious that they 
would have much preferred making these speeches at my funeral. 
In the senate vote to ratify my appointment as ambassador, 
I squeezed by with a majority of three votes. The rightists and 
some Christian-hypocrites voted against me, under the secrecy of 
the little white and black balls. 

The previous ambassador had literally covered the walls with a 
tapestry of photographs of every one of his predecessors in the 
post, in addition to his own portrait. It was an impressive collec- 
tion of vacuous people, save two or three, among whom was the 
distinguished Blest Gana, our small Chilean Balzac. I ordered the 
descent of the spectral portraits and replaced them with more 
solid men: five engraved likenesses of the heroes who gave 
Chile a flag, nationhood, and independence; and contemporary 
photographs of Aguirre Cerda, progressive President of the Re- 
public; Luis Emilio Recabarren, founder of the Communist Party; 
and Salvador Allende. The walls now looked infinitely better. 

I don’t know what the secretaries in the Embassy thought, 
rightists almost all of them. The reactionary parties had run the 
country for a hundred years. Not even a doorman was appointed 
unless he was a conservative or a royalist. Calling themselves 
“revolution in freedom,” the Christian-Democrats, in turn, 
shov ed a voracity parallel to that of the ancient reactionaries. 
Latex, these parallels converged until they almost became the 
same line. 

The bureaucracy, the archipelagos of the public buildings, 
everything was still overrun with employees, inspectors, and 
counselors from the right, as if Allende and Popular Unity had 
not won in Chile and the ministers in the government were not 
socialists and Communists now. 

This state of affairs led me to request that the post of counselor 
at the Embassy in Paris be filled by one of my friends, a career 
diplomat and an outstanding writer, Jorge Edwards. Although he 

Cruel, Beloved Homeland 


came from the most powerful and reactionary family in the coun- 
try, he was a man of the left, without any party affiliation. What 
I needed more than anything was an intelligent functionary who 
knew his work and whom I could trust. Until then, Edwards had 
been charge d’affaires in Havana. Vague rumors had reached me 
of some difficulties he had had in Cuba. Since I had known him 
for years as a man of the left, I did not consider this very im- 

My new counselor arrived from Cuba in a very nervous state 
and told me his story. I got the impression that both sides were 
right and at the same time neither was, the way it sometimes 
happens in life. Little by little, Jorge Edwards repaired his shat- 
tered nerves, stopped chewing his nails, and helped me with evi- 
dent ability, intelligence, and loyalty. During his two years of 
hard work at the Embassy, my counselor was my best comrade 
and functionary, perhaps the only one in that huge office building 
who was politically impeccable. 

When a North American company tried to put an embargo 
on Chilean copper, a wave of feeling ran through the whole of 
Europe. Not only did the newspapers, television, and radio take 
up this affair with special interest, but once again the conscience 
of the people rallied to our defense. 

Stevedores in France and Holland refused to unload the copper 
at their ports as a sign of protest against the aggression. TTiat 
marvelous gesture stirred the world. Such stories of solidarity 
teach more about the history of our time than the lecture rooms 
at any university. 

More humble but even more touching incidents also come to 
mind. On the second day of the embargo, a French lady of 
modest means, from a small country town, sent us a one-hundred- 
franc note from her savings to help Chile defend its copper. 
And a letter of warm support as well, signed by all the in- 
habitants of the town, including the mayor, the parish priest, 
workers, athletes, and students. 

Messages came to me from Chile, sent by hundreds of friends, 
known and unknown, who congratulated me for standing up to 
the international pirates. I received a package by parcel post, sent 
to me by a working-class woman, containing a mate gourd, four 
avocados, and a dozen green chili peppers. 



At the same time, Chile’s reputation had grown remarkably. We 
had been transformed into a country that actually existed. Before 
this, we had gone unnoticed among the great number of underde- 
veloped countries. Now, for the first time, we had an identity and 
no one could ignore the great fight we were putting up to build a 
future for our country. 

Everything happening in our country stirred up extraordinary 
interest in France and all of Europe. Popular rallies, student meet- 
ings, books in all languages studied, examined, photographed 
us. Every day, I had to put off journalists who wanted to 
know all there was to know and much more. President Allende 
was a world figure. The discipline and firmness of our working 
class was admired and praised. 

Warm sympathy toward Chile grew enormously as a result of 
the conflicts arising from the nationalization of our copper 
deposits. It was clear to people everywhere that this was a giant 
step along the road to Chile’s new independence. Without subter- 
fuge of any kind, the popular government made our sovereignty 
definitive by reconquering copper for our country. 


When I returned to Chile I was received by new vegetation in the 
streets and in the parks. Our marvelous spring had been painting 
the forest leaves green. Our old gray capital needs green leaves 
the way the human heart needs love. I inhaled the freshness of this 
young spring. When we are far from our country, we never 
picture it in its winter. Distance wipes away the hardships of 
winter, the forsaken country towns, children barefoot in the cold. 
The memory only thinks of bringing us green countrysides, yel- 
low and red flowers, the blue sky of our national anthem. This 
time I actually found the beautiful season which has so often been 
only a dream created by distance. 

Another vegetation splotched the walls of the city. It was the 
moss of hatred covering them with its tapestries. Anti-Communist 
posters gushing insolence and lies; posters against Cuba; anti- 
Soviet posters; posters against peace and humaneness; blood- 
thirsty posters predicting mass murders and Jakartas. This was the 
new vegetation defiling the city’s walls. 

Cruel, Beloved Homeland 


I knew from experience the tone and the drift of this propa- 
ganda. I had lived with it in pre-Hitler Europe. That was exactly 
the spirit of Hitlerite propaganda: the extravagant use of lies, 
with no holds barred; the all-out campaign of threats and fear; 
parading all the weapons of hatred against what the future prom- 
ised. I felt that they wanted to change the very essence of our life. 
I could not understand how there could be Chileans who insulted 
our national spirit like this. 

When the reactionary right had to depend on terrorism, it used 
it unscrupulously. General Schneider, the army chief of staff, a 
respected and respectable man who opposed a coup d’etat to 
prevent Allende’s accession to the presidency of the republic, was 
assassinated. Near his home, a motley crew of fiends machine- 
gunned him in the back. The operation was directed by an ex- 
general who had been kicked out of the army. The gang was 
made up of young members of the social set and professional 

When the crime was proved and the man who was the brains 
behind it was thrown into jail, he was sentenced to thirty years by 
a military court. However, the sentence was reduced to two years 
by the Supreme Court. In Chile, a poor devil who steals a chicken 
because he is hungry gets double the sentence imposed on the 
assassin of the commander in chief of the army. This is the class- 
conscious application of laws elaborated by the ruling class. 

Allende’s victory came as a weird shock to that ruling class. For 
the first time, it crossed their minds that laws so carefully fabri- 
cated by them could bounce back in their faces. They scurried off 
somewhere for cover, with their stocks, jewels, bank notes, 
gold coins. They went off to Argentina, Spain, they even got as 
far as Australia. Their terror of the people would have made 
them reach the North Pole in record time. 

Later they would come back. 


Blocked everywhere by diabolical and legal obstacles, the Chilean 
road was at all times strictly constitutional. In the meantime, the 
oligarchy patched up its tattered clothing and transformed itself 



into a Fascist faction. The North American blockade became 
more implacable after the nationalization of copper. In league 
with ex-President Frei, I.T.T. threw the Christian-Democrats 
into the arms of the new Fascist right. 

The diametrically opposed personalities of Allende and Frei 
have always preoccupied Chile. Perhaps for the very reason that 
they are such different men, each in his own way a strong leader 
in a country without a tradition of strong leaders, each with his 
own goals and his road well marked out. 

I think I knew Allende well. There was nothing enigmatic 
about him. As for Frei, we were in the senate at the same time. He 
is a strange, highly premeditative man, a far cry from Allende’s 
spontaneity. Yet he often explodes into violent laughter, strident 
cackles. I like people who are given to loud outbursts of laughter 
(I am not gifted that way). But there are laughs and laughs. Frei’s 
break out of a troubled, serious face, very intent on the needle 
and thread with which he is sewing together his political life. It’s a 
sudden laughter that is a bit startling, like the screech of certain 
birds at night. Aside from this, his behavior is generally circum- 
spect and deliberately cordial. 

I often found his political zigzagging depressing, before it dis- 
illusioned me completely. I remember that one day he came to see 
me in my house in Santiago. At that time the possibility of an 
understanding between the Communists and the Christian-Demo- 
crats was in the air. They were not yet called Christian-Democrats, 
but Falange Nacional, a horrid name adopted while they were 
still deeply impressed by the young Spanish Fascist, Primo de 
Rivera. Then, after the Spanish war, they came under the in- 
fluence of Maritain, became anti-Fascists, and took a different 

Our conversation was casual but friendly. We Communists 
were interested in reaching some kind of understanding with all 
men and all sectors of good will; we would never get anywhere 
by ourselves. Although he was naturally evasive, Frei let me 
know the leftist feelings he apparently had at that time. He made 
me a parting gift of one of those laughs that fall out of his mouth 
like stones. “We’ll have another talk,” he said. But, two days 
later, I realized that our conversation had ended for good. 

After Allende’s triumph, Frei, an ambitious and cold politician, 

Cruel, Beloved Homeland 

34 S 

believed he needed a reactionary alliance if he was to return to 
power. It was merely a pipe dream, the frozen dream of a political 
spider. His web will not hold up; the coup d’etat he sponsored 
won’t do him any good. Fascism does not put up with compro- 
mises, it demands submission. Frei’s figure will become more ob- 
scure each year. And someday his memory will have to face 
responsibility for the crime. 


From its beginning, from the moment it dropped the unaccept- 
able name of Falange, the Christian-Democratic Party interested 
me very much. It came into being when a small group of Catholic 
intellectuals formed a Maritain-Thomist elite. This philosophy 
did not appeal to me. I harbor a natural indifference toward 
people who are theorists about poetry, politics, or sex. But the 
practical consequences of that small movement were felt in a 
special, unexpected way. I got several young leaders to speak out 
for the Spanish Republic at the huge meetings I organized on my 
return from Madrid, which was still in the throes of fighting then. 
This participation was unprecedented; prodded by the Conserva- 
tive Party, the old Church hierarchy almost broke up the new 
party. Only the intervention of a farsighted bishop saved it from 
political suicide. A statement from the Bishop of Talca saved the 
group that would eventually turn into Chile’s biggest party. Its 
ideology changed completely with the years. 

After Frei, the most important man among the Christian- 
Democrats was Radomiro Tomic. I met him in my senate days, 
right in the middle of strikes and election stumping in northern 
Chile. In those days the Christian-Democrats followed us Com- 
munists around in order to take part in our rallies. We were and 
still are the most popular people in the deserts of potassium nitrate 
and copper— I mean, among the most victimized workers on the 
American continent. Recabarren came from there, the workers’ 
press and the first unions were born there. None of this would 
have been possible without the Communists. 

At that time, Tomic was not only the most promising Christian- 
Democrat but their most attractive personality and most gifted 

Things had changed very much in 1964 when the Christian- 
Democrats won the elections that carried Frei to the presidency 
of the republic. The campaign of the candidate who defeated 
Allende was based on unprecedented anti-Communist attacks, 
conducted with newspaper and radio warnings intended to ter- 
rorize the people. This propaganda was enough to make any- 
body’s hair stand on end: nuns would be shot, little boys would 
die run through by the bayonets of bearded men just like Fidel, 
little girls would be torn from their parents and shipped to Si- 
beria. Later, from testimony given before a U.S. Senate special 
committee, we learned that the C.l.A. had spent twenty million 
dollars in that savage campaign of terror. 

Once he had been anointed President, Frei gave his only big 
rival in the party a Greek gift: he appointed Radomiro Tomic 
Chilean ambassador to the United States. Frei knew that his gov- 
ernment would renegotiate with the American copper companies. 
At this time, the entire country was pleading for nationalization. 
Like an expert sleight-of-hand artist, Frei changed this term to 
“Chileanization,” and with new agreements, he insured the de- 
livery of our major national wealth into the hands of the. power- 
ful consortiums, Kennecott and Anaconda. The economic 
consequences were disastrous for Chile and heartbreaking for 
Tomic: Frei had wiped him off the map. An ambassador of Chile 
to the United States who collaborated in handing over the copper 
would not receive the support of the Chilean people. Of the three 
candidates at the next election, Tomic took a poor third place. 

Shortly after resigning from his post as ambassador to the 
United States, at the beginning of 1968, Tomic came to see me in 
Isla Negra. He had recently arrived from the north and was not 
yet officially a candidate for the presidency. Our friendship stood 
firm through the political storms, and still does. But we had a hard 
time understanding each other this time. He wanted a wider alli- 
ance of the progressive forces to take the place of our Popular 
Unity, under the name of the Union of the People. This proposal 
was impossible; his part in the copper negotiations disqualified 
him with the political left. Moreover, the two major parties of the 
popular movement, the Communists and the Socialists, had come 
of age and could carry a man of their own to the presidency. 

Discouraged as he was, Tomic revealed something to me before 
leaving my home. Andres Zaldi'var, the Christian-Democratic 

Cruel, Beloved Homeland 


Secretary of the Treasury, had shown him documents that 
proved the country’s economy was already bankrupt. “We’re 
heading for a fall,” Tomic told me. “The situation can’t last four 
more months. It’s disastrous. Zaldivar has given me the details, our 
bankruptcy is inevitable.” 

A month after Allende was elected, but before he took over the 
presidency, the same cabinet minister, Zaldivar, publicly an- 
nounced the country’s imminent economic disaster, but this time 
he blamed it on the international repercussions of Allende’s elec- 
tion. That’s how history is written. At least that’s how it is writ- 
ten by twisted, opportunist politicians like Zaldivar. 


My country has been betrayed more than any other in our time. 
From the nitrate deserts, from the submarine coal mines, from the 
terrible heights where the copper lies buried and is extracted with 
inhuman labor by the hands of our people, a freedom movement 
of magnificent proportions sprang up. That movement raised a 
man named Allende to the presidency of Chile to carry out re- 
forms and measures of justice that could not be postponed, and to 
rescue our national wealth from the claws of foreigners. 

Wherever he went, in the most far-off countries, the people 
admired our President and praised the remarkable pluralism of 
our government. Never in the history of the United Nations in 
New York had an ovation been heard like the one given the 
President of Chile by delegates from all over the world. Here in 
Chile, in the middle of enormous difficulties, a truly just society 
was being erected, based on our sovereignty, our national pride, 
and the heroism of the best of Chile’s population. On our side, on 
the side of the Chilean revolution, were the constitution and the 
law, democracy and hope. 

They had everything they wanted on their side. They had 
harlequins and jumping jacks, lots of clowns, terrorists with pis- 
tols and chains, phony monks and degraded members of the 
armed services. They all rode the merry-go-round of petty spite. 
Jarpa the Fascist went along, hand in hand with his nephews from 
“Fatherland and Freedom,” ready to break anyone’s head or 
spirit, as long as they recovered for themselves the huge hacienda 
they called Chile. With them, livening up the show, tripped a 



great banker and dancer, spattered with blood, Gonzalez Videla, 
the rumba king; rumbaing from side to side, he had long ago 
handed his party over to the enemies of the people. Now it was 
Frei who was dangling his Christian-Democratic Party before the 
same enemies of the people, dancing to the tune these enemies 
played, dancing, moreover, with ex-Colonel Viaux, whose dirty 
work he had shared. These were the principal actors in the 
comedy. They had in readiness all the food they had hoarded, the 
“miguelitos,”* the clubs, and bullets like those that had inflicted 
mortal wounds on our people in Iquique, Ranquil, Salvador, 
Puerto Montt, Jose Maria Caro, Frutillar, Puente Alto, and so 
many other places. Heman Mery’s assassins danced with those 
who should have been defending his memory. They danced with 
a light heart, as if they could never hurt a fly. They were 
offended at being reproached for those “silly little details.” 

Chile has a long civil history with few revolutions and many 
stable governments, all of them conservative and mediocre. Many 
little Presidents and only two great ones: Balmaceda and Allende. 
Curiously enough, both came from the same background, the 
moneyed class, which calls itself the aristocracy here. As men of 
principles bent on making a great country out of one diminished 
by a mediocre oligarchy, the two were steered down the same 
road to death. Balmaceda was driven to suicide for refusing to 
deliver the nitrate riches to foreign companies. 

Allende was murdered because he nationalized the other wealth 
of Chile’s subsoil: copper. In both cases, the Chilean oligarchy set 
bloody revolutions in motion. In both cases, the military played 
the bloodhounds. The English companies in Balmaceda’s time, the 
North Americans in Allende’s time, instigated and financed these 
military actions. 

In both cases, the homes of the Presidents were sacked by 
orders from our distinguished “aristocrats.” Balmaceda’s rooms 
were smashed with axes. Allende’s home, thanks to world prog- 
ress, was bombed from the air by our heroic airmen. 

Yet these two men were very different. Balmaceda was a capti- 
vating orator. His imperious nature drove him to rely more and 

• Probably devised by someone named Miguel, these are clusters of nails sharp- 
ened at both ends and bent into a curve. They are dropped along the road to 
puncture the tires of oncoming vehicles.— Trans. 

Cruel, Beloved Homeland 


more on himself. He was sure of the high purpose of his inten- 
tions. He was surrounded by enemies at all times. His superiority 
over those around him was so great, and his solitude so vast, that 
he ended by withdrawing into himself. The people, who should 
have gone to his aid, did not exist as a power, that is, were not 
organized. This President was doomed to behave like a visionary, 
a dreamer: his dream of greatness remained a dream. After his 
assassination, the rapacious foreign businessmen and our creole 
parliamentarians gained possession of the nitrate: for the for- 
eigners, the property and the concessions; for the creoles, the 
bribe money. Once the thirty pieces of silver had been exchanged, 
everything returned to normal. The blood of a few thousand men 
of the people dried up quickly on the battlefields. The most ex- 
ploited workers in the world, those in Chile’s northern regions, 
never stopped producing enormous quantities of pounds sterling 
for London. 

Allende was never a great orator. And as a statesman he never 
took a step without consulting his advisers. He was the anti- 
dictator, the democrat of principles, even in the smallest particu- 
lars. The country that fell to his lot was no longer Balmaceda’s 
inexperienced people; he found a powerful working class that 
knew what it was all about. Allende was a collective leader; al- 
though not from the popular classes, he was a product of the 
struggle of those classes against the paralysis and corruption of 
their exploiters. This makes the work Allende realized in such a 
short time superior to Balmaceda’s; going further, it is the most 
important achievement in the history of Chile. The nationaliza- 
tion of copper alone was a titanic accomplishment. As were the 
ending of the monopolies, the farsighted agrarian reform, and 
many other objectives attained under his government, whose 
essential nature was collective. 

Allende’s acts and works, whose value to the nation can never 
be obliterated, enraged the enemies of our liberation. The tragic 
symbolism of this crisis became clear in the bombing of the gov- 
ernment palace; it brings to mind the blitzkrieg of the Nazi air 
force against defenseless foreign cities— Spanish, English, Russian. 
Now the same crime was being carried out again in Chile. Chilean 
pilots were dive-bombing the palace, which for centuries had 
been the center of the city’s civic life. 

I am writing these quick lines for my memoirs only three days 

35 ° 


after the unspeakable events took my great comrade, President 
Allende, to his death. His assassination was hushed up, he was 
buried secretly, and only his widow was allowed to accompany 
that immortal body. The aggressors’ version is that they found 
clear signs of suicide on his lifeless body. The version published 
abroad is different. Immediately after the aerial bombardment, the 
tanks went into action, many tanks, fighting heroically against a 
single man: the President of the Republic of Chile, Salvador Al- 
lende, who was waiting for them in his office, with no other 
company but his great heart, surrounded by smoke and flames. 

They couldn’t pass up such a beautiful occasion. He had to be 
machine-gunned because he would never have resigned from 
office. That body was buried secretly, in an inconspicuous spot. 
That corpse, followed to its grave only by a woman who carried 
with her the grief of the world, that glorious dead figure, was 
riddled and ripped to pieces by the machine guns of Chile’s sol- 
diers, who had betrayed Chile once more. 





1904 Neftalf Ricardo Reyes Basoalto (Pablo Neruda) was born on 
July 12 in Parral, Chile, the son of Dona Rosa Basoalto de Reyes 
and Don Jose del Carmen Reyes Morales. Dona Rosa Basoalto died 
in August. 

1906 Don Jose del Carmen moved to Temuco with his son and mar- 
ried again. His second wife was Dona Trinidad Candia Marverde. 

1910 Pablo Neruda entered Tcmuco’s school for boys, which he 
attended until he completed his sixth-year studies in the humanities 
in 1920. 

1917 July 18: the Temuco newspaper La Manana carried an article 
entitled “Entusiasmo y perseverancia,” signed Neftalf Reyes— the 
poet’s first published work. 

1918 The poem “Mis ojos,” signed Neftalf Reyes, appeared in the 
Santiago magazine Corre-Vuela (No. 566). Three more poems ap- 
peared in it that year; others were published in student reviews in 

1919 Thirteen poems published in Corre-Vuela. Contributed to Selva 
Austral in Temuco and, under various pseudonyms, to reviews in 
Chilian and Valdivia. Entered the Maulc Floral Games poetry com- 
petition with his poem “Nocturno ideal’’ and won third prize. 

1920 October: adopted the pseudonym Pablo Neruda. November 
28: first prize in Temuco’s spring festival. That same year he be- 
came president of the Ateneo Literario at his school in Temuco and 
acting secretary of the student association in Cautfn. He worked on 
two books: Las insulas extranas and Los cansancios inutiles, which 
were never published. Parts of them would go into Crepusculario. 

1921 Moved to Santiago to study at the Teachers Institute for a 
career as professor of French. October 14: first prize of the Student 




Federation of Chile for the poem “La cancion de la fiesta,” pub- 
lished in the Student Federation’s magazine, Juventud. 

1922 Contributed to the review Claridad, the Student Federation’s 
official organ. August 24: the Vremia literary group sponsored read- 
ings by the poets Joaquin Cifuentes, R. Monestier, Alberto Rojas 
Gimenez, and Neruda. October: the Montevideo review Los Tiem- 
pos devoted an issue to the work of young poets; Neruda was in- 

1923 August: Crepusculario published (Ediciones Claridad). The re- 
view Dionysios, edited by Aliro Oyarzun, carried four poems by 
Neruda. The last three became part of El hondero entusiasta, 
which, though written at this time, was not published until 1933. In 
1923 there were forty-two contributions to Claridad; the critical 
articles were signed with another pseudonym, Sachka. Some of the 
poems published that year would be included in Veinte poemas de 
amor y una cancion desesperada. (Poem XX, for instance, appeared 
in Claridad, No. 115, on November 24, titled “Tristeza a la orilla 
de la noche”). 

1924 June: Nascimento published Veinte poemas de amor y una 
cancion desesperada as well as Pdginas escogidas de Anatole France, 
selected, translated, and with an introduction by Neruda. August 20: 
letter by Neruda in the newspaper La Nacion, explaining how he 
conceived and wrote Veinte poemas. 

1925 Became editor of Caballo de Bastos. His work appeared in sev- 
eral literary publications, such as Andamios, AH Baba, Dinamo, 
Renovacion, and in the newspaper La Nacion. Claridad (No. 132) 
carried “Galope muerto,” which would be the lead poem in Resi- 
dence en la tierra. Tentativa del hombre infinito (Nascimento), 
bearing two dates: 1925, the year of printing, and 1926, the year of 

1926 Anillos and El habitante y su esperanza (Nascimento). The sec- 
ond, definitive edition of Crepusculario, dedicated to Juan Gandulfo 
(Nascimento). Translations from the French of fragments of Rainer 
Maria Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge appeared in 
Claridad (No. 135). Aienea (Nos. 5 and 10) carried “Dolencia” and 
“Tormentas,” which would form part of Residence en la tierra, 
along with “Madrigal escrito en invierno” and “Fantasma.” 

1927 Appointed consul ad honorem to Rangoon, Burma. June 14: 
left Santiago for Buenos Aires, where he boarded the Baden bound 
for Lisbon, accompanied by Alvaro Hinojosa. July 16: arrived in 
Madrid. July 20: Paris; then Marseilles, and from there on to 



Rangoon. July: sent his first “chronicle” to La Nation in Santiago, 
which brought it out on August 14. These “chronicles” continued 
to appear regularly in La Nation. Some of Neruda’s poems were 
published in El Sol and Revista de Occidente in Madrid. 

1928 Consul in Colombo, Ceylon. 

1929 Attended the congress of the Indian National Congress Party 
in Calcutta. 

1930 Consul in Batavia, Java. December 6: married Maria Antonieta 
Hagenaar Vogelzanz. “Galope muerto,” “Serenata,” and “Caballo de 
los suenos” appeared in Revista de Occidente (No. LXXXI) in 

1931 Consul in Singapore. 

1932 Returned to Chile after a sea voyage of more than two months. 
July: the second, definitive edition of Veinte poemas de amor y 
una cancion desesperada was published. 

1933 January 24: first edition of El hondero entusiasta (Empresa 
Letras, Santiago). Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desespe- 
rada published by Tor, Buenos Aires. April: limited, de luxe edition 
(100 copies) of Residencia en la tierra ( 1925-1931) brought out by 
Nascimento. August 28: arrived in Buenos Aires, as consul. October 
13: met Federico Garcia Lorca in Pablo Rojas Paz’s home. 

1934 May 5: left for Barcelona to be consul there. His daughter, 
Malva Marina, born in Madrid on October 4. December 6: lecture 
and poetry reading at the University of Madrid, introduced by 
Federico Garcia Lorca. Translation of William Blake’s “Visions of 
the Daughters of Albion” and “The Mental Traveler” in the review 
Cruz y Raya , Madrid. Met Delia del Carril in Morla Lynch’s home. 

1935 February 3: to Madrid as consul. Homenaje a Pablo Neruda de 
los poetas espanoles brought out by Plutarco, a Madrid publisher. 
Quevedo’s Sonet os de la rnuerte and Poesias de Villamediana, both 
edited by Neruda, published by Cruz y Rava. September 15: Cruz 
y Raya edition of Residencia en la tierra (1925-1935). October: 
first issue of the review Caballo Verde para la Poesta, edited by 

1936 Primeros poemas de amor (nine poems from Veinte poemas de 
amor y una cancion desesperada) published bv Heroe, Madrid. July 
18: Spanish Gvil War broke out. Federico Garcia Lorca was killed 
a month later. Neruda started writing the poems for Espana en 
el corazdn. Dismissed from his consular post, went to Valencia, then 
to Paris. November 7: with Nancy Cunard brought out the review 


3 5 6 

Les Poetes du Monde Dependent le Peuple Espagnol. Separated from 
Maria Antonieta Hagenaar. 

1937 February: lecture on Federico Garda Lorca, in Paris. April: 
with Cesar Vallejo started the Grupo Hispanoamericano de Ayuda 
a Espana, a Latin American organization for assistance to Spain. 
July 2: the Congress of American Nations met in Paris; Neruda 
delivered a speech that was translated into French and published. 
Returned to Chile on October 10 and on November 7 established 
the Alianza de Intelectuales de Chile para la Defensa de la Cultura 
(Alliance of Chilean Intellectuals for the Defense of Culture). No- 
vember 13: Espana en el corazdn published by Ercilla. 

1938 Three successive editions of Espana en el corazdn. New editions 
of almost all his books were brought out by Ercilla in Chile and Tor 
in Buenos Aires. May 7: Neruda’s father died in Temuco. July: 
Espagne au coeur, with an introduction by Louis Aragon. August: 
the review Aurora de Chile, edited by Neruda, came out. August 
18: his stepmother, Doha Trinidad Candia, died in Temuco. Octo- 
ber: the Popular Front candidate, Don Pedro Aguirre Cerda, won 
the presidential elections. Neruda traveled through Chile, lecturing. 
Espana en el corazdn printed at the Barcelona front, in. the thick of 
the Spanish Civil War. 

1939 Appointed consul in charge of the emigration of Spanish refu- 
gees, with headquarters in Paris. March: left for France, passing 
through Montevideo, where he attended the International Congress 
of American Democracy as delegate of the Alliance of Chilean In- 
tellectuals. From April to July, was active on behalf of the Spanish 
refugees, some of whom he managed to get aboard the Winnipeg, 
which arrived in Chile at the end of the year. May: Las furias y las 
penas (Nascimento). Russian edition of Espana en el corazdn. In 
Montevideo, AIAPE published Neruda entre nosotros. Trois 
po ernes (poems from Residencia en la tierra) appeared in Paris, 
G.L.M. edition; also, Chile os acoge, Neruda’s address to the refugees. 

1940 January 2: returned to Chile. Veinte poemas de amor y una 
cancidn desesperada published in Esperanto by the International 
Esperantist. Amado Alonso’s Poesta y estilo de Pablo Neruda, his 
study of Neruda’s poetry and style (Losada). Continued writing 
Canto general de Chile, later to become Canto general. August 16: 
arrived in Mexico, where he had been named Consul General. 

1941 Wrote “Un canto para Bolivar,” which was published by Uni- 
versidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. Visited Guatemala. Octo- 
ber: doctor honoris causa. University of Michoacan. December: 



beaten up by Nazis in Cuernavaca; as a result, received the support 
of hundreds of intellectuals throughout the Americas. 

1942 Visited Cuba in April. September 30: first public reading of 
“Canto de amor a Stalingrado”; posters were made of this poem 
and put up all over Mexico City. Several literary reviews printed 
“America, no invoco tu nombre en vano,” from Canto general. His 
daughter, Malva Marina, died in Europe. 

1943 “Nuevo canto de amor a Stalingrado” published in Mexico by 
the Society of Friends of the U.S.S.R. A private, non-commercial 
edition of Canto general de Chile. In Lima, Peru, Cantos de Pablo 
Neruda published by Hora del Hombre. In Bogota, Sus mejores 
poemas (Libreria Siglo XX). In Chile, Selection, edited by Arturo 
Aldunate Phillips (Nascimento). February: to New York to take 
part in a “Night of Americas” program. Back in Mexico, August 27: 
honored with a farewell celebration attended by two thousand 
people. September 1 : left for Chile, traveling through the countries 
on the Pacific coast. September 3: Panama. September 9: Colombia, 
where he was guest of honor of President Lopez’s government, and 
guest of honor in Manizales. A Pablo Neruda School inaugurated 
in Caldas. October 22: Lima and Cuzco, where he visited the pre- 
Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Guest of honor in Arequipa. Novem- 
ber 3: arrived in Santiago. December 8: gave two lectures: Viaje 
alrededor de mi poesta and Viaje al corazon de Quevedo. 

1944 Awarded the Premio Municipal de Poesia. Gave a series of 
lectures. A private edition of Selected Poems (from Residencia en 
la tierra) appeared in New York. In Buenos Aires, Veinte poemas 
de amor y una cancion desesperada and Residencia en la tierra 

1945 March 4: elected senator from the provinces of Tarapaca and 
Antofagasta. The pamphlet Saludo al Norte y a Stalingrado pub- 
lished. Chile’s National Prize for Literature. May 30: first speech in 
the senate, published in Cuatro discursos. July 8: joined the Com- 
munist Party of Chile. July 15: attended rally in honor of Luis 
Carlos Prestes in Pacaembu Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. July 30: 
reception at the Academia Brasileira de Letras in Rio; welcoming 
speech by Manuel Bandeira. July 31: rally in honor of Neruda in 
Rio. August 1 to 8: readings and lectures in Buenos Aires and Mon- 
tevideo. In September, wrote Alturas de Macchu Picchu. 

1946 Decorated by the Mexican government with the Order of the 
Aztec Eagle. March 20: lecture on “Viaje al Norte de Chile.” Named 
national campaign manager for the presidential candidate Gabriel 




Gonzalez. Espana en el corazon published in Czechoslovakia. Resi- 
dence en la tierra published in the United States and in Copen- 
hagen. In Sao Paulo, Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion 
desesperada. December 28: legally took the name Pablo Neruda. 

1947 Tercera residencia (Losada), grouping together La furias y las 
perns, Espana en el corazon, and other titles. The complete poems 
brought out as Residencia en la tierra, by Cruz del Sur. Journeyed 
to the Strait of Magellan. The Society of Chilean Writers published 
his lectures. November 27: “Carta intima para millones de hombres” 
appeared in Caracas’s El Nacional (in Chile, censorship of the press 
had gone into effect on October 4). As a result of this “letter,” the 
President of Chile instituted judicial proceedings against Neruda. 

1948 January 6: senate speech, later published with the title Yo acuso. 
February 3: Chilean Supreme Court upheld Neruda’s removal from 
the senate. February 5: courts ordered his arrest. Had to go into 
hiding, went on writing Canto general. Literary tributes to him in 
several countries; his poems widely published. London’s Adam In- 
ternational Review devoted an entire issue to Neruda. 

1949 February 24: left Chile, crossing the Andes through the south. 
April 25: attended the First World Congress of the Partisans for 
Peace in Paris, thereby disclosing his whereabouts. Was made a 
member of the World Peace Council. June: first visit to the Soviet 
Union, to attend the celebration in honor of Pushkin’s 1 joth anni- 
versary. June 27: tribute in Neruda’s honor by the Union of Soviet 
Writers in Moscow. Visited Poland and Hungary in July, and 
traveled to Mexico with Paul Eluard in August. The following 
month, took part in Mexico in the Latin American Congress of the 
Partisans for Peace. Remained in Mexico, seriously ill, until the end 
of the year. His books and poetry published in Germany, Czecho- 
slovakia, China, Denmark, Hungary, the United States, the Soviet 
Union, Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Guatemala, and Argentina. Dulce 
patria (Editorial del Pacifico, Chile). 

1950 January 28: the constitutional permission to remain outside the 
country, granted him by Arturo Alessandri, president of the senate, 
expires. Two editions of Canto general published in Mexico, one 
by the Comite Auspiciador and the other by Ediciones Oceano, 
both with illustrations by David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera. 
Two clandestine editions also appeared in Chile. Visited Guatemala, 
where he gave poetry readings and lectured; honored by the gov- 
ernment and by Parliament. Pablo Neruda en Guatemala was pub- 
lished. June: to Prague, and then to Paris, where he autographed 



the French edition of Canto general in October, To Rome, and 
then to New Delhi for an interview with Jawaharlal Nehru. His 
poetry appeared in Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali. November 16 to 22: 
attended the Second World Congress of the Partisans for Peace in 
Warsaw. November 22: received the International Peace Prize, to- 
gether with Picasso and other artists, for his work Que despierte 
el leftador. Stayed for a few weeks in the Castle of Dobris, as the 
guest of the Union of Czechoslovakian Writers. A new edition of 
Canto general in Mexico, and a clandestine one in Chile. Also, new 
translations in the United States, China, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the 
Soviet Union (250,000 copies), Sweden, Rumania, India, Israel, and 

1951 Tour of Italy, with readings in Florence, Turin, Genoa, Rome, 
Milan. Que despierte el leiiador appeared in Italian. January 14: with 
Neruda still out of the country, the Society of Chilean Writers and 
the Writers’ Union celebrated the publication of Canto general. 
January 20: lectures on Neruda’s poetry given in Milan by Salvatore 
Quasimodo and Renato Birolli. March: Paris. May: Moscow, 
Prague, Berlin. August 5 to 19: Third Festival of World Youth in 
Berlin. Attended the Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) Film Festival and 
the Moravian Popular Arts Festival. Took the Trans-Siberian Rail- 
road to the People’s Republic of Mongolia and flew from there to 
Peking, where he presented the International Peace Prize to Mme 
Sun Yat-sen, in the name of the World Peace Council. His poems 
appeared in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Iceland. New trans- 
lations in Yiddish, Hebrew, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Arabic, 
Turkish, Ukrainian, Uzbek, Portuguese, Slovak, Georgian, Arme- 

1952 Spent several months in Italy. February 10: began writing Las 
uvas y el viento in Capri. Private, anonymous edition of Los versos 
del capitan. July and August: to Berlin and Denmark. Chile: the 
order for his arrest was revoked, more than three years after it was 
issued. August 12: returned to Santiago, where he was honored at 
several welcoming receptions. Moved into his house on Lynch 
Avenue. Made a trip to Temuco and other parts of Chile. Decem- 
ber: visited the Soviet Union as member of the International Peace 
Prize jury. Began writing Odas elementales. 

1953 January 22: returned from the Soviet Union. Organized the 
Continental Congress of Culture, which was held in April in San- 
tiago, attended by eminent artists of the Americas, including Diego 
Rivera, Nicolas Guillen, Jorge Amado, etc. Two anthologies 



brought out in Chile: Todo el amor (Nascimento) and Poesta 
politica (Austral). December 20: Stalin Peace Prize. Started build- 
ing his house, La Chascona. 

1954 January: gave five lectures on his poetry at the University of 
Chile. July: Odas elementales (Losada); Las uvas y el viento (Nasci- 
mento). July 12: his fiftieth birthday celebrated with great acts of 
homage. Writers from all over the world came to wish him well: 
Ai Ch’ing and Siao Emi from China, Ilya Ehrenburg from the 
U.S.S.R., Drda and Kutvalek from Czechoslovakia. Barrault joined 
in the tributes by reciting Neruda’s poems at his theater perfor- 
mances in Santiago. Many Latin American friends also attended: 
Elvio Romero from Paraguay, Miguel Angel Asturias from Guate- 
mala, and from Argentina, Oliverio Girondo, Norah Lange, Maria 
Rosa Oliver, Raul Larra, de Lellis, and others. Donated his library 
and other belongings to the University of Chile, which agreed to 
subsidize the Neruda Foundation for the Advancement of Poetry. 
June 20: inaugural ceremony of the Neruda Foundation, with 
speeches by Don Juan Gomez Millas, rector of the university, and 
Neruda; these speeches were printed and distributed free of charge. 
he Chant general, with illustrations by Fernand Leger, came out in 
France. Pablo Neruda: choix de poemes, by Jean Marcenac, pub- 
lished by Pierre Seghers in its Poetes d’Aujourd’hui series, along 
with Tout l’ amour. Neruda’s books also appeared in Hungary and 
Poland, and in Jerusalem, in Hebrew. Canto general in the U.S.S.R. 

1955 Separated from Delia del Carril. That same year his house, La 
Chascona, was finished, and he moved in with Matilde Urrutia. 
Started the review La Gaceta de Chile , issued three times a year. Pub- 
lication in Germany of Que despierte el lenador (Insel Verlag, Leip- 
zig) and Las uvas y el viento (Volk und Welt, Berlin). A selection 
of his poetry published in Arabic, and another in Persian. Canto 
general (Fenice Guarda collection, Bologna, Italy); also in Bucha- 
rest, Rumania. His prose work Viajes, a collection of lectures, pub- 
lished by Nascimento in Santiago. Visited the Soviet Union, China, 
and other socialist countries, as well as Italy and France. Back in 
America, gave readings in Brazil and in Montevideo, Uruguay, and 
spent a period of rest in Totoral, Cordoba, Argentina. 

1956 January: Nuevas odas elementales (Losada). February: re- 
turned to Chile. Oda a la tipografta (Nascimento). El gran oceano, 
ir Stockholm. 

1957 January 30: Obras completas, on Bible paper (Losada). Started 
to write Cien sonetos de amor. April 1 : to Argentina, where he was 



arrested in Buenos Aires on the eleventh and spent a day and a half 
in the National Penitentiary; the Chilean consul obtained his re- 
lease. Left Argentina without giving his scheduled reading. Pablo 
Neruda , an analysis of his poetry by Mario Jorge de Lellis, was 
brought out (with many editions to follow) by La Mandragora, 
and Roberto Salama’s Para una critica de Pablo Neruda was pub- 
lished by Cartago, Buenos Aires. Gave several readings in Monte- 
video. Was made president of the Society of Chilean Writers. 

- December 18: Tercer libro de las odas (Losada). 

1958 Took part in presidential campaign in Chile, touring the coun- 
try and speaking at mass rallies. August 18: Estravagario (Losada). 

1959 Spent five months traveling throughout Venezuela, where he 
was widely acclaimed and honored. November 5; Navegaciones y 
regresos (Losada). December 5; a private printing, by subscription, 
of Cien sonetos de amor. Began building La Sebastiana in Val- 

1960 Traveling. April 12: finished Cancion de gesta aboard the Louis 
Lumiere. Jean Marcenac translated and Picasso illustrated Neruda’s 
poem “Toro.” Toured the Soviet Union, Poland, Bulgaria, Ru- 
mania, Czechoslovakia, and spent the rest of the year in Paris. On 
his way back to America, visited Italy. Sailed for Havana from 
there. Cancion de gesta (edition of 25,000) published in Cuba. 
December 14: definitive edition of Cien sonetos de amor (Losada). 

1961 Returned to Chile in February. Cancion de gesta published by 
Austral in Santiago. July 26: Las piedras de Chile (Losada). October 
31: Cantos ceremoniales (Losada). The one millionth copy of 
Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada was printed. 
Paris edition of Tout l' amour, translated by Alice Gascar. In the 
United States: Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda (Grove Press). 

1962 January: O Cruzeiro Internacional began serializing “Memorias 
y recuerdos de Pablo Neruda: Las vidas del poeta.” March 30: was 
made a fellow of the University of Chile’s School of Philosophy 
and Education. Welcoming speech by Nicanor Parra; Nascimento 
published Discursos of Pablo Neruda and Nicanor Parra. April: 
visited the U.S.S.R., Bulgaria, Italy, and France. September 6: 
Plenos poderes (Losada). At the end of this trip, returned directly 
to his house in Valparaiso. 

1963 Second edition of Obras completas (Losada). Sumario (Tal- 
lone, Alpignano, Italy); later to be part of Memorial de Isla Negra. 
Artur Lundkvist of the Swedish Academy published an extensive 



article on Neruda in the review BLM (Bonniers Litteratur Ma- 
gasian). December: Neruda illustrated Homero Arce’s sonnets, pub- 
lished under the title Los intimos metales in Cuadernos Brasileros, 
edited in Santiago by Thiago di Mello, cultural attache of the 
Brazilian Embassy. 

1964 An extensive analytical biography by Raul Silva Castro, critic 
and member of the Academia de la Lengua, was published. Chile’s 
National Library commemorated the poet’s sixtieth birthday. A 
series of lectures on Neruda was launched with a talk by the li- 
brary’s director, Don Guillermo Feliu Cruz. Pablo Neruda: Como 
veo mi propia obra. Lectures by Fernando Alegria, Mario Rodri- 
guez, Hernan Loyola, Hugo Montes, Nelson Osorio, Luis Sanchez 
Latorre, Volodia Teitelboim, Manuel Rojas, Jaime Giordano, and 
Federico Schopf. Special Neruda issues were prepared by the 
Chilean reviews Alerce, Aurora, and Mapocho. July 12: Memorial 
de Isla Negra published by Losada in five volumes, each with its 
own title. September 9: publication of his translation of Shake- 
speare’s Romeo and Juliet (Losada). Neruda, active in the presi- 
dential campaign, toured the country. October 10: opening of 
Romeo and Juliet, presented by the Instituto de Teatro de la Uni- 
versidad de Chile. 

1963 February: to Europe. June: Oxford University presented him 
with a degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa, for the first time 
given to a South American. Spent July in Paris. Then traveled to 
Hungary, where, in collaboration with Miguel Angel Asturias, he 
wrote Comiendo en Hungria, which was published in five languages 
simultaneously. Attended the P.E.N. club conference in Bled, Yu- 
goslavia, and the Peace Conference in Helsinki, Finland. Went to 
the U.S.S.R. as member of the jury for the Lenin Prize, which 
was given to the Spanish poet Rafael Alberti. December: spent a 
few days in Buenos Aires, on his way back to Chile. 

1966 June: guest of honor at the P.E.N. club in New York. Archi- 
bald MacLeish introduced him at the first of several readings in 
New York; in Washington and Berkeley he made tapes for the 
Library of Congress. Then to Mexico City, where he gave read- 
ings at the university; to Peru, where he gave readings at the 
Municipal Theater, the University of San Marcos, the University 
of Engineering in Lima, and in Arequipa. At the behest of the 
Peruvian Association of Writers, headed by Ciro Alegria, he was 
decorated with the order of the Sol de Peru. Elegie a Pablo Neruda, 
Louis Aragon (Gallimard). Emir Rodriguez Monegal, El viajero 


3 6 3 

irrmovil (Losada). October :8: in Cnile, legalized his marriage 
to Matilde Urrutia, to whom he had been married abroad. Arte 
de pajaros, private edition by the Society of Friends of Con- 
temporary Art, illustrated by Antunez, Herrera, Carreno, and 
Toral. Weekly radio programs of recollections of his life and read- 
ings of his poetry. Wrote the play Fulgor y muerte de Joaquin 
Murieta. Una cat a en la arena, text by Neruda and photographs by 
Sergio Larrain (Lumen, Barcelona). 

1967 Set off on another trip in April. May 22: attended the Con- 
gress of Soviet Writers in Moscow. July 20: was awarded the 
Viareggio-Versilia prize, established that year for figures of world 
stature whose work is a major contribution to culture and under- 
standing between nations. Visited Italy, France, and England, re- 
turning to Chile in August. October 14: opening in Santiago of 
Fulgor y muerte de Joaquin Murieta, presented by the Instituto de 
Teatro de la Universidad de Chile, directed by Pedro Orthous, 
with music by Sergio Ortega. Published by Zig-Zag in Chile. A 
selection of Neruda’s poems in English translation by Alastair Reid. 
A “book-object” created by the Austrian artist Hundertwasser with 
Alturas de Macchu Picchu; all 66 copies of the edition sold, out in 
Paris. Analytical work, Ser y morn en Pablo Neruda, by the 
Neruda scholar Heman Loyola (Editorial Santiago). 

1968 July: third edition of Obras completas, now two volumes 
(Losada), containing a complete bibliography prepared by Hernan 
Loyola. Las manos del dia, which was not included in the Obras 
completas (Losada). 

1969 Fin de mundo and A tin. August: bibliographical exhibition of 
Neruda’s work held in Chile’s National Library. September 30: 
designated by the Central Committee of the Communist Party as 
its candidate for the presidency of Chile. Campaigned throughout 
the country, and took part in the dialogue that led to the forma- 
tion of the Popular Unity Party. Subsequently resigned, to permit 
Salvador Allende to be the party’s sole candidate. 

1970 Active in Allende’s presidential campaign. La espada encendida 
and Las piedras del cielo (Losada). Elections won by Popular Unity; 
Salvador Allende became President of Chile. Neruda appointed am- 
bassador to France. 

1971 October 21: awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the sixth 
Spanish-language writer, and the third Latin American, to receive 
this distinction. 



1972 Accepted an invitation by the P.E.N. club to visit New York. 
In his opening speech, condemned the United States economic 
blockade of Chile. Geografta infructuosa (Losada). Began the final 
editing of his Memorias. Resigned from his post as ambassador to 
France and returned to Chile in November. Was welcomed back 
with a ceremony in the National Stadium of Santiago, for which 
there was a massive turnout. 

1973 The publishing house of Quimantu brought out Incitacidn al 
Nixonicidio y alabanza de la revolution cbilena, a book of polit- 
ical poetry that was Neruda’s contribution to the campaign for the 
parliamentary elections in March. In mid-year, he made an appeal to 
the intellectuals of Latin America and Europe to help prevent 
a civil war in Chile. Losada brought out the fourth edition of Obras 
completas, in three volumes. September 1 1 : overthrow of the 
Popular Unity government by a military coup d’6tat. Death of 
Salvador Allende. September 23: Pablo Neruda died in Santiago, 
Chile. The world was profoundly shocked to learn that his house 
in Valparaiso and the one in Santiago, where his wake was held, 
had been ransacked and vandalized. 


Ady, Endre, 182 
Aga Khan, 277 

Aguirre, Margarita, 109, 269, 298 
Aguirre, Socrates, 268 
Aguirre Cerda, Pedro, 140, 146-47, 162, 
34 ®. 3 S<* 

Ai Ch’ing, 208, 224, 231, 235-36, 238- 
40, 360 

Alarcdn, Asterio, 226-27 
Alba, Duke and Duchess of, 248-50 
Alberti, Rafael, 69, 1 16-18, 120-21, 126, 
128, i)i, 137-38, 192, 204, 276, 362 
Alderete (journalist), 187 
Alegria, Ciro, 324, 362 
Alegria, Fernando, 362 
Aleixandre, Vicente, 67, 118, 121 
Alessandri Palma, Arturo, 52-53, 267, 

Alexandrov, Grigory, 204 
Alicatta, 212 

Allende, Salvador, 271, 304, 337-38, 
340 , 343 - 50 . 363, 364 
Alone (Hemin Diaz Arrieta), 49 
Alonso, Amado, 293, 356 
Altolaguirre, Manuel, 118, 120-21, 125 
Altolaguirre, Paloma, 12 1 
Alvarez del Vayo, Julio, 142, 146 
Amado, Jorge, 230, 234-35, l 3 8 > J 4 °> 
3 > 3 . 359 

Amado, Zelia, 230, 234-36 
Andreyev, Leonid, 38, 267 
Antunez, Nemesio, 188, 216, 363 
Aparicio, Antonio, 119 
Apollinaire, Guillaume, 39, 46 

Aragon, Louis, 127, 130, 142, 148, 187, 
204, 245, 305, 317, 356, 362 
Aramburu, Pedro Eugenio, 225 
Araoz Alfaro, Rodolfo, 298 
Arce, Homero, 46, 362 
Archpriest of Hita, 261 
Arciniegas, German, 333 
Arellano Marin, 141-44 
Arenales, Angelica, 155 
Argensola, Bartolome Leonardo de, 
1 14, 1 19 

Argensola, Lupercio Leonardo de, 
1 14, 1 19 

Arguijo, Juan del, 1 14 
Arrau, Claudio, 98 
Artsybashev, Mikhail, 267 
Asturias, Miguel Angel, 155-56, 186, 
224, 360, 362 
Auden, W. H., 128 
Azev, 329-30 

Baera, Professor, 200 
Balmaceda, Jose Manuel, 348-49 
Bandeira, Manuel, 357 
Basoalto de Reyes, Rosa, 7, 10, 353 
Baudelaire, Charles, 24, 294, 298, 331 
Becquer, Gustavo Adolfo, 137 
Beebe, Charles William, 217 
Beecham, Thomas, 1 29 
Belaunde, Fernando, 324 
Bellay, Guillaume du, 283 
Belief, Jorge, 178-79, 181-85 
Beniuc, Mihai, 247 
Bennett, Arnold, 337 


3 66 

Berceo, Gonzalo de, 16 1 
Bergamin, Jose, 118 
Beria, Lavrenti, 317 
Berling, Gosta, 303 
Bertaux (chief of police), 190-91 
Betancourt, Romulo, 310-21 
Bhrampy (houseboy), 91, 101-2, 104, 

Bianchi, Victor, 65-6, 181-85 

Birolli, Renato, 358 

Blest Gana, Guillermo, 340 

Bliss, Josie, 87, 96, 131 

Bloch, Jean Richard, 189 

Blum, Leon, 140 

Bolivar, Sim6n, 309-10, 356 

Borejsza, Jerzy, 279-81 

Bosc&n, Juan, 282 

Bose, Subhas Chandra, 82 

Botana, Natalio, 1 14-15 

Boureanu, Radu, 247 

Braganza, Duchess of, 67 

Brandt, Willy, 306 

Brecht, Bertolt, 204 

Brik, Lili, 318 

Brunet, Marta, 98 

Buddha, 82, 229 

Bulnes, Raul, 176-77 

Byron, George Gordon, Lord, 137 

Caballero, Jose, 119 
Cabezdn, Isaias, 40-41 
Calderon de la Barca, Pedro, 1 19 
Camacho Ramirez, Arturo, 305 
Candia Marverde, Trinidad, 10-11, 20, 
553. 3S 6 

Capablanca, Josi Raul, 109 
Cardenas, Lazaro, 313 
Carlos, see Vidali, Vittorio 
Caro, Rodrigo, 1 14 
Carpentier, Alejo, 325 
Carrera, Josf Miguel, 3 10 
Carril, Delia del, 130-31, 189, 216, 224, 
355. }6o 

Carroll, Lewis, 1 27 
Carvajal, Armando, 98 
Castro, Fidel, 320-24 
Catherine of Russia, 310 
Cavalcanti, Guido, 282 
Celine, Louis-Ferdinand, 1 38 
Cerio, Edwin, 2 14 

Cernuda, Luis, 118, 12 1 
Cervantes, Miguel de, 261, 273, 280 
Chambers, Whittaker, 330 
Chaucer, Geoffrey, 261 
Chekhov, Anton, 2 1 
Chiang Kai-shek, 239 
Chou En-lai, 208 
Churchill, Winston, 337-38 
Chu Teh, 208 

Cifuentes Sepulveda, Joaquin, 298, 354 
Codovilla, Victorio, 314-16 
Colette, 188 

Columbus, Christopher, 125 
Corbiere, Tristan, 71 
Corniglio-Molinier (aviator), 132 
Cortazar, Julio, 289, 305 
Corvalan, Luis, 336 
Cotapos, Acario, 1 18, 277 
Crevel, Rene, 1 17 
Cruchaga Tocornal, Miguel, 139 
Cunard, Lady, 128-29 
Cunard, Nancy, 127-30, 355 

D’Annunzio, Gabriele, 286, 290 

Dante Alighieri, 282 

Dario, Ruben, 68, 1 12-14, 161 

Debray, Regis, 323 

de Gaulle, Charles, 159-60 

Deglane, Bobby, 122 

Demaria, Alfredo, 37 

Desnoes, Edmundo, 327 

Desnos, Robert, 1 17 

Diaz Casanueva, Humberto, 1 20 

Diaz Pastor, Fulgencio, 276 

Diego, Gerardo, 67 

Donoso, Jose, 289 

Dostoevsky, Feodor, 21 

Ddra, Jan, 224, 360 

Drieu La Rochelle, Pierre, 1 38 

Ducasse, Isidore, see Lautreamont 

Durruti, Buenaventura, 329 

Edward VIII (Duke of Windsor), 129 
Edwards, Jorge, 304, 340-41 
Egana, Juan, 267-68 
Ehrenburg, Ilya, 31, 153, 189-91, 195, 
204-10, 224, 244-46, 263, 299, 318, 360 
Einstein, Albert, 1 39 
Eisenstein, Sergei Mikhailovich, 318 
Eliot, T. S., 259-60 



Eluard, Dominique, 216, 278 
Eluard, Paul, 127, 187, 216, 273, 277-78, 

Emar, Juan, see Y 4 nez, Pilo 
Ercilla, Alonso de, 7, 15, 301, 356 
Escobar (chauffeur), 176-77 
Escobar, Zoilo, 57 
Espinosa, Pedro de, 1 20 

Fadeyev, Alexander, 198 

Faure, Gabriel, 97 

Fedin, Konstantin, 198 

Felipe, Leon, 135-36, 158 

Feliu Cruz, Guillermo, 362 

Fernindez, Joaquin, 191 

Fernandez Retamar, Roberto, 327 

Fierro, Martin, 261 

Figueroa, Inis, 216 

Fonseca, Ricardo, 175-76 

Foppens, Jean Francois, 272 

Franck, Cesar, 97-98 

Franco, Francisco, 121, 126, 128, 133, 

■ 44. 3*7> 331 

Fraser, G. S., 260 
Frei, Eduardo, 344-46, 348 
Fuentes, Carlos, 289, 325 

Gallegos, Romulo, 302-3 
Gandhi, Mahatma, 81-82, 199, 202 
Gandulfo, Juan, 37, 267, 354 
Garcia Lorca, Federico, 37, 50, 111-18, 
120-25, 137, 276, 355, 356 
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel, 289, 305, 

Garcia Rico (bookseller), 272 
Garcilaso de la Vega, 137 
Garfias, Pedro, 145 
Gascar, Alice, 216, 361 
Gasperi, Alcide de, 213 
Gauguin, Paul, 62 
Gide, Andri, 333 
Giordano, Jaime, 362 
Girondo, Oliverio, 224, 360 
Giroux, Frangoise, 187-88 
G6mez, Juan Vicente, 67, 172 
Gomez de la Serna, Ram6n, 119 
G6mez Millas, Juan, 360 
G6mez Rojas, Domingo, 37 
Gdngora, Luis de, 119, 127, 137, 261, 
272-73, 289 

Gonzalez, Galo, 176 
GonzSlez Tunon, Amparo, 128, 131 
Gonzalez Vera, Jose Santos, 38 
Gonzilez Videla, Gabriel, 171-73, 179. 
348, 357-58 

Goya, Francisco de, 1 14, 153, 249 
Gris, Juan, 35, 287-88 
Guevara, Alvaro (Chile), 44-45 
Guevara, Ernesto (Che), 299, 322-23, 

Guillen, Jorge, 120-21 
Guillen, Nicolas, 359 
Giiiraldes, Ricardo, 201 
Gutierrez, Joaquin, 212 
Guttuso, Renato, 213 

Hagenaar, Maria Antonieta, 109, 355, 

Hauser, Kaspar, 222 
Heine, Heinrich, 139, 298 
Hernandez, Miguel, 117-18, tai, 125- 
26, 133, 276 

Hernandez, Pedro, 24, 26, 2B 
Herrera, General, 144 
Herrera Petere, Jose, 158 
Herrera y Reissig, Julio, 121 
Hertz (German consul), 109-10 
Hikmet, Nazim, 195-5)6, 199, 299, 312 
Hinojosa, Alvaro, 46-48, 66-76, 354 
Hitler, Adolf, 44, 109-10, 138-39, 148, 
■ 57. *37. 3i9. 343 
Ho Chi Minh, 231 
Holderlin, Friedrich, 170, 263 
Hollander, Carlos, 269-70 
Hugo, Victor, 218 

Huidobro, Vicente, 64, 69, 131-33, 261, 
286-89, 296 

Huxley, Aldous, 129, 161 
Huxley, Julian, 161 

Ibarra, Joaquin, 272 

Ibsen, Henrik, 2 1 

Iglesias (tennis player), 331-32 

Hlyes, Gyulla, 282 

Indy, Vincent d\ 97 

Jammes, Francis, 39 
Jarpa, Sergio Onosre, 347 
Jebeleanu, Eugen, 247 
Jimfnez, Juan Ram6n, 113, 119-21 
Joliet-Curie, Fr6diric, 198-200, 202-3 




Joyce, James, no 
Jozsef, Attila, 282 
Juanito, 222-23 

Khrushchev, Nikita, 251 
Kipling, Rudyard, 249 
Kirsanov, Semion, 195, 299 
Kisch, Egon Erwin, 157-5* 

Korneichuk, Alexander, 189 
Kruzi, 102-4 
Kuo Mo-jo, 204 
Kutvalek, 224, 360 

Labarca, Santiago, 37 
Lacasa, Luis, 1 18 
Lafertte, E., 254, 316 
Laforgue, Jules, 273, 294, 298 
Lagerlof, Selma, 1 30 
Lago, Tomiis, 303 
Lange, N'orah, 224, 360 
Larra, Raul, 224, 360 
Larrain, Sergio, 363 
Larrazabal, Wolfgang, 320 
Lautreamont, 121, 262, 273, 294 
Laval, Pierre, 148 
Lawrence, D. H., 93 
Legarreta (Neruda pseudonym), 180 
Leger, Fernand, 360 
Lehmbruck, Wilhelm, 109 
Lellis, Mario Jorge de, 360, 361 
Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich, 193, 250, 288, 

Leon, Maria Teresa, 126 
Leopardi, Giacomo, 283 
Levi, Carlo, 2 1 3 
Li (interpreter), 239 
Lopez, Alfonso, 357 
Losada, Gonzalo, 289 
Loyola, Heman, 362, 363 
Luis de Granada (Fray), 113 
Luis de Leon (Fray), 125 
Lundkvist, Artur, 304, 361 

Machado, Antonio, 113, 119-20 
Machado, Gerardo, 109, 255 
Machado, Manuel, 1 1 3 
MacLeish, Archibald, 362 
Malaparte, Curzio, 166 
Mallarmi, Stephane, 170 
Mallo, Maruja, 119 

Malraux, Andre, 132 
Mann, Thomas, 1 39 
Manrique, Jorge, 137, 246 
Mansilla (consul), 74-75, 102, ioj 
Mao Tse-tung, 236-37, 239, 316 
Mao Tung, 208 
Maqueira, Tulio, i 16 
Marc, Franz, 109 
Marcenac, Jean, 305, 360, 361 
Marin, Juan, 201-3 
Marinello, Juan, 295, 326-27 
Maritain, Jacques, 344 
Mason, Carlos, 9-10 
Mason, Micaela Candia, 10 
Matta, Roberto, 305 
Maugham, W. Somerset, 101, 337 
Mauny, Count de, 95 
Mayakovsky, Vladimir, 138, 194-95, 
289, 294, 318 
Medioni, Gilbert, 158 
Melgarejo, Mariano, 172 
Mella, Julio Antonio, 255 
Mello, Thiago di, 362 
Membrives, Lola, 1 1 1 
Mery, Hernan, 348 
Meza Fuentes, Roberto, 37 
Mikoyan, Anastas, 316 
Miller, Arthur, 325 
Miranda, Francisco de, 3 10- 1 1 
Mistral, Gabriela, 21, 261, 271, 284-86, 
299, 303 

Modotti, Tina, 255-56 
Moliere, 272 

Molina Nunez, Julio, 268 
Molotov, Vyachelav, 3 16 
Monge (railway worker), 9 
Montagnana, Mario, 158 
Montes, Hugo, 362 
Moore, George, 1 29 
Moore, Marianne, 326 
Mora, Constancia de la, 158 
Morante, Elsa, 213 
Moravia, Alberto, 213 
Moreno Villa, Jose, 158 
Morla Lynch, Carlos, 126, 355 
Munthe, Axel, 214 
Murga, Romeo, 30 

Negrin, Juan, 142, 146-47 

Nehru, Jawaharlal, 81-82, 199-204, 359 



Nehru, Motilal, 81, 102 
Neira (publisher), 296 
Nerval, Gerard de, 263 
Niemoeller, Martin, 1 39 
Nixon, Richard, 44 
Novoa, 56 

Ocampo, Victoria, 43, 325 
O’Higgins, Bernardo, 3 10-1 1 
Oliver, Maria Rosa, 224, 360 
Orozco, Jose Clemente, 153, 277 
Ortega, Sergio, 363 
Orthous, Pedro, 363 
Osorio, Nelson, 362 
Ospovat, Lev, 293 
Ossietzky, Carl von, 139 
Otero, Lisandro, 327 
Otero Silva, Miguel, 305, 307 
Ovid, 267 

Oyarzun, Aliro, 50, 268, 3J4 

Pacheco, Horacio, ij 
P arra, Nicanor, 361 
Pasternak, Boris, 194-95. 3 18 
Patsy, 99 
Paz, Octavio, 13 1 
Perez Jimenez, Marcos, 252 
Perez Rulfo, Commander, 1 S 4 
Peron, Eva, 185 
Peron, Juan, 185, 225, 315 
Petofi, Sandor, 1 37 
Petrarch, 261, 282-83 
Picasso, Pablo, 119, 187-88, 195, 199, 
204, 2 16, 361 
Poe, Edgar Allan, 332 
Poliziano, Angelo, 282 
Pound, Ezra, 138 
Powers, 84-85 
Powers, Francis Gary, 259 
Prestes, Leocadia, 3 1 2 
Prestes, Luis Carlos, 234, 311-16, 357 
Prieto, Miguel, 158 
Primo de Rivera, Jose Antonio, 344 
Primo de Rivera, Miguel, 67 
Proust, Marcel, 97-98 
Pushkin, Alexander, 193-94, 2 59 . 35 8 

Quasimodo, Salvatore, 283, 359 
Quevedo, Francisco de, 97, 114, 119, 
125, 260-61, 272-73, 289, 355 

Rabelais, Francois, 261 
Raman, Chandrasekhara, 199 
Ramirez, Pedrito, 1 84-85 
Recabarren, Luis Emilio, 53, 169, 340, 

Redl, Colonel, 158 
Reid, Alastair, 363 
Rejano, Juan, 158 
Reverdy, Pierre, 259, 279 
Reyes, Abadias, 8 
Reyes, Alfonso, 150 
Reyes, Amos, 8, 244 
Reyes, Joel, 8, 244 
Reyes, Jose Angel, 8, 244 
Reyes, Jose del Carmen, 8, 12-20, 237, 
353 . 35 <* 

Reyes, Laura, 14, 16, 91 
Reyes, Malva Marina, 355, 356, 357 
Reyes, Oseas, 8, 244 
Reyes, Rodolfo, 14 
Ricci, Paolo, 212, 215 
Rilke, Rainer Maria, 333, 354 
Rimbaud, Arthur, 71, 97, 263, 273 
Rimbaud, Isabelle, 273 
Rivera, Diego, 153-55, 2 5 S. 35 8 . 359 
Roces, Wenceslao, 158 
Rodriguez, Mario, 362 
Rodriguez, Pepe, 178-80 
Rodriguez Luna, 1 58 
Rodriguez Monegal, Emir, 293, 325, 

Rojas, Manuel, 38, 362 
Rojas Gimenez, Alberto, 38-41, 46, 
298 . 354 

Rojas Gimenez, Rosita, 40 
Rojas Paz, Pablo, 355 
Romero, Elvio, 224, 360 
Rommel, Erwin, 153 
Ronsard, Pierre de, 205, 282 
Rosenberg, Ethel and Julius, 330 
Rothschild, Alphonse de, 245 
Rulfo, Juan, 289 

Sabat Ercasty, Carlos, 50-51 
Sabato. Ernesto, 289, 325 
Saint-Saens, Camille, 97 
Salama, Roberto, 361 
Salazar, Antonio, 67 
Salgari, Emilio, 1 1, 19 
Salinas, Pedro, 120 



Sanchez, Alberto, 118, 276 
Sanchez, Celia, 321 
Sanchez Latorre, Luis, 362 
San Martin, Jose Francisco de, 309-1 1 
Santa Cruz, Domingo, 98 
Savich, Ovadi, 299 
Schneider, Rene, 343 
Schopf, Federico, 362 
Schubert, Franz, 97 
Schweitzer, Daniel, 37 
Seferis, George, 302 
Seghers, Anna, 139, 157, 204 
Seghers, Pierre, 360 
Segura Castro, O., 268 
Serrano Plaja, Arturo, 1 19 
Shostakovich, Dimitri, 318 
Siao Emi, 208, 224, 238-40, 360 
Silva, Jose Asuncion, 253-54, 298 
Silva Castro, Raul, 362 
Simenon, Georges, 299 
Simonov, Konstantin, 189, 240-41 
Siqueiros, David Alfaro, 134-55, 305, 

Siqueiros, Jesus, 154 

Sitwell, Edith, 145 

Sobrino, Eladio, 140 

Somlyd, Gyorgy, 282 

Somoza, Anastasio, 252 

Soong Ch’ing-ling, 204, 208-9, 359 

Soustelle, Jacques, 15859 

Spender, Stephen, 128 

Stalin, Josef, 205, 236-37, 317-19 

Streicher, Julius, 1 39 

Sue, Eugene, 262 

Sun Yat-sen, 204, 208 

Supervielle, Jules, 190-91 

Swift, Jonathan, 129 

Tagore, Rabindranath, 76 
Tamayo, Rufino, 155 
Tchaikovsky, Peter Illich, 64-65 
Teitelboim, Volodia, 362 
Thielman, Maria, 10-11 
Thomas, Dylan, 263 
Tikhonov, Nikolai, 188, 198 
Ting Ling, 208, 238-39 
Titov, Gherman, 251 
Tolstoy, Leo, 21 
Tomic, Radomiro, 345-47 
Torre, Carlos de la, 272 

Triolet, Elsa, 142, 245, 317 
Tristan, Flora, 62 
Trotsky, Leon, 154, 292 
Trujillo, Rafael, 252, 333 
Twain, Mark, 187 

Ubico, Jorge, 1 56 
Unamuno, Miguel de, 39, 41 
Urrutia, Matilde, 214-17, 224-26, 235- 
3<S. *7>, U4-75> *99. 3°4. 3 06 . 3°8, 
321-22, 334,338,360,363 

Valdivia, Alberto, 41-42 
Valiry, Paul, 303 
Valle, Rosamel del, 1 20 
Valle-InclSn, Ramon del, 113, 1 19 
Vallejo, Cesar, 68-69, 131-3*. *83-84. 

Vargas, Getulio, 313 

Vargas Llosa, Mario, 289 

Vargas Vila, Jose Maria, 21, 286 

Vasallo, Carlos, 305 

Vega, Lope de, 289 

VelSsquez, Diego, 1 14 

Venturelli, Jose, 288 

Verne, Jules, 298 

Vial, Sarita, 227 

Viaux, Colonel, 348 

Vicuna, Carlos, 267 

Vidali, Vittorio, 158, 211-12, 255-56 

Vignole, Omar, 42-43 

Villar, Amado, 113 

Vishinsky, Andrei, 197, 316 

Wagner, Richard, 97 
Wendt, Lionel, 93 
Whitman, Walt, 262, 294 
Wilson, Blanca, 11-12 
Winter, Augusto, 2 1 
Winzer, 95-96 
Woolf, Leonard, 93 
Woolf, Virginia, 93 

Y4nez, Mina, 34-36 
Yanez, Pilo, 34-36 
Y&nez, Senator, 34-36 
Yeats, William Butler, 130 
Yegulev, Sacha, 38, 267 

Zaidivar, Andris, 346-47 
Zhdanov, Andrei, 195 
Zweig, Arnold, 139